What is the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program?

October 30, 2018

By Marie Flanagan , NCR-SARE Communications Specialist

green and yellow ncr-sare logo

You might have noticed the yellow and green logo on the doors of Suite 120 in BAE, or the large poster about sustainable agriculture practices in the hallway, and wondered about the connection to the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. The department has hosted the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program since 2006 when it moved to the University of Minnesota under the direction of Bill Wilcke.

The SARE program is divided into four regions, and an open call for institutions to compete to host each region was released in 2017. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced that the University of Minnesota would continue to serve as a host institution for the North Central Region, which consists of 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Directed by Dr. Beth Nelson in BBE, the program has four additional full-time staff. Jean Andreasen, Marie Flanagan, and Joan Benjamin are all University of Minnesota employees, with Jean and Marie based in BBE, and Joan working remotely at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri (one of two 1890 land grant institutions in the North Central Region.) Dr. Rob Myers directs the Extension arm for "train the trainer" activities through a sub-award with the University of Missouri.

Photo of three women's smiling faces close togetherBeth Nelson, Marie Flanagan, and Jean Andreasen are NCR-SARE staff members with offices located in 120 BioAgEng Building.

"We are delighted to continue SARE's important work in our region and gratified by the confidence placed in us by our stakeholders with this decision," Nelson said. "We appreciate the support from CFANS and BBE in hosting the program here and helping us award and manage more than 100 new projects every year. If we look a little bleary-eyed at this time of year, October/November is when the bulk of our grant proposals are submitted and reviewed…so ‘tis the season.'"

Since 2006, the regional program has grown from an annual allocation of $3.5 million to nearly $8 million in 2018.

Most of that funding is distributed through six grant programs, all of which support farmer-focused solutions that boost production, increase profitability, promote environmental stewardship, and enhance quality of life in rural communities through competitive grants and outreach.

NCR-SARE has awarded more than $50 million worth of competitive grants to farmers and ranchers, researchers, educators, public and private institutions, nonprofit groups, and others exploring sustainable agriculture in the 12 states. We receive about 500 proposals throughout the year and fund over 100 each year. Because many projects are multi-year, NCR-SARE staff is usually balancing a portfolio of about 250 projects at any one time.

In addition to SARE’s commitment to farmer-focused research and education, successful SARE projects also have a focus on outreach activities and sharing information. All SARE Project reports can be found by searching the SARE project database.

In addition to funding numerous grant opportunities, SARE also provides a wide range of educational resources. From newsletters profiling funded research to video success stories to books and bulletins on ag production practices, a wealth of information is available to those interested in sustainable ag practices. NCR-SARE’s also hosts Farmers Forums, which are conference events that give farmers, ranchers, and others the chance to share information about sustainable agriculture practices with a national audience.

The University of Minnesota will serve as the NCR-SARE host institution for the next five years through fiscal year 2022, at which point there will be another open call for the host institution. Each regional host institution collaborates with NIFA to implement regional competitive grant and outreach programs as guided by the Regional Administrative Council.

NCR-SARE is managed and led by a regional administrative council, state coordinators, regional technical and review committees, and staff. The NCR funds cutting-edge projects every year through six competitive grant programs. Administrative Council members decide which projects will receive SARE funds. A collection of farm and non-farm citizens, the administrative council includes a diverse mix of agricultural stakeholders in our 12 states. Council members hail from regional farms and ranches, the Cooperative Extension Service, and universities. In addition, regional representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and NCR agribusinesses, state agencies, and foundations sit at the table to distribute grant money.

Each state in SARE's North Central Region has one or more designated directors of sustainable agriculture education, called Professional Development Program (PDP) State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators. These leaders are responsible for administering sustainable agriculture activities and educational events.

USDA-NIFA is part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area. The agency administers federal funding to address the agricultural issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. Learn more about NIFA’s impacts online