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NOTICES

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Agricultural Research Project Contractors

[49 Pa.B. 2618]
[Saturday, May 25, 2019]

 The Department of Agriculture (Department) is soliciting applications to conduct agricultural research on one or more of the following research topic areas, with the research to be conducted from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, with the possibility, but not the assurance, of extending that research into subsequent years.

 This notice establishes the procedures by which grant applications will be solicited and reviewed, and by which grants will be awarded.

 1. Grant Solicitation. The Department will accept grant applications for the purposes, in the form and according to the schedule set forth as follows. Additional publication and dissemination of this notice shall be made to applicants who have previously submitted grant applications to or received grants from the Department, as well as any individuals or entities who have requested notification from the Department of grant availability.

 2. Research Topic Areas. The research topics the Department is interested in funding are as follows:

 a. Ongoing multiyear research projects. The Department has, in previous years, provided funding for various multiyear research projects that might be continued or extended to complete research the Department identifies as addressing continued priorities of the agricultural industry. The Department will consider proposals to continue supporting previously funded research.

 b. Climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for Commonwealth agriculture. In its Fourth National Climate Assessment in November 2018, the United States Global Change Research Program provided an authoritative report on the potential impacts of climate change across the global economy, including agriculture. Ironically, in Chapter 18, the report suggests that climate changes could have both beneficial and detrimental impacts in the Northeast:

Studies suggest that Northeast agriculture, with nearly $21 billion in annual commodity sales, will benefit from the changing climate over the next half-century due to greater productivity over a longer growing season (see also Ch. 10: Ag & Rural). However, excess moisture is already a leading cause of crop loss in the Northeast. Recent and projected increases in precipitation amount, intensity, and persistence indicate increasing impacts on agricultural operations. Increased precipitation can result in soil compaction, delays in planting, and reductions in the number of days when fields are workable. If the trend in the frequency of heavy rainfall prior to the last frost continues, overly wet fields could potentially prevent Northeast farmers from taking full advantage of an earlier spring. Increased soil erosion and agricultural runoff—including manure, fertilizer, and pesticides—are linked to excess nutrient loading of water bodies as well as possible food safety or public health issues from food and waterborne infections. Warmer winters are likely to increase livestock productivity in the Northeast but are expected to also increase pressure from weeds and pests, demand for pesticides, and the risk of human health effects from increased chemical exposures.
The projected changes in precipitation intensity and temperature seasonality would also affect streams and the biological communities that live in them. Freshwater aquatic ecosystems are vulnerable to changes in streamflow, higher temperatures, and reduced water quality.

The Department seeks proposals that help to identify adaptation strategies and combinations of strategies that are of greatest utility in this Commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic region.

 c. Spotted lanternfly. Spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, was detected in this Commonwealth 4 years ago, and quickly established itself as a damaging pest in neighborhoods, forests and agricultural settings. As with any new invasive species, significant knowledge gaps exist in understanding of the pest and its potential effects on this Commonwealth. The Department will consider research proposals that address basic and applied research on spotted lanternfly, with priority given to proposals that analyze the pest's economic impacts on agriculture, general commerce and communities, on integrated pest management strategies for agricultural commodities of importance to this Commonwealth and on basic biological research that will allow us to develop more sophisticated, cost-effective and environmentally-low-impact control strategies.

 d. Powdery mildew in hops. With the increasing popularity and scale of this Commonwealth's craft beer industry, there is greater demand for hops produced within this Commonwealth. Although hops production is relatively small in this Commonwealth, a number of potential growers are considering the opportunity as a way of capitalizing on increased demand, while diversifying their operation. A growing threat to hops, however, is powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can significantly reduce yields, distort and cause defects in hop cones, and contribute to premature ripening. The Department is seeking research proposals on how to prevent powdery mildew in hops, as well as research on treatment methods.

 e. Economic impact and estimated costs of compliance with Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. This Commonwealth has made considerable progress to reduce nutrient loads into waterways, particularly within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Despite these reductions, considerable work remains for the agriculture and urban stormwater sectors to reduce nutrient runoff further within the bay watershed. Estimates of potential costs associated with this necessary work are outdated. The most recent reliable estimate of the amount of resources required to implement nonpoint source best management practices (BMP) fully for the agriculture sector is an August 2013 report from the Pennsylvania State University's Environmental and Natural Resources Institute that showed a need of $3.6 billion in capital costs or, on an annualized basis and including operation and maintenance costs, $378.3 million per year through 2025. The Department will accept research proposals to update estimated costs of nonpoint source BMP installation as the Commonwealth works to prepare the third phase of its Watershed Implementation Plan.

 f. Inventory of noncost-shared conservation BMP in agriculture. In 2016, the Commonwealth partnered with agricultural organizations and academia to survey and inventory farmers' voluntary efforts to implement conservation BMP without the assistance of public investment. This noncost share survey and the results are part of the Commonwealth's Chesapeake Bay restoration goal in that results are used to generate credit for previously unacknowledged water quality improvements on the part of the agriculture sector. The Department will accept research proposals to replicate the survey using the 2016 design, including onfarm verification of reported improvements by a sample of the survey's total population.

 g. Pollinator Protection Plan. The Commonwealth released the Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan in January 2018 following an extensive process of engagement with stakeholders. The report, as found on the Department's web site at www.agriculture.pa.gov under the ''Hot Topics'' heading, provides a series of recommendations to provide a broad framework in which to consider and improve pollinator health in this Commonwealth. The report is designed to be used by a variety of communities and stakeholder groups at multiple levels, from local to Statewide. The Department will accept proposals that align with the eight recommendations for research found in Chapter 5 of the report.

 h. Alternative uses for fluid milk. Increasing production combined with declining consumption has led to an oversupply of fluid milk. To build demand, some have proposed non-nutritional uses of milk, including for cosmetic purposes, as a cleansing agent or as a plant fertilizer. The Department will accept research proposals in support of the development of alternative milk-based products that are intended for nonhuman-consumption purposes.

 i. Support for dairy product research and development. Product innovation often is key to maintaining relevance in the eyes of consumers and protecting market share. Given the alternatives available to customers in the marketplace, there is a need for innovation in the dairy sector. The Department will consider proposals for research and development projects specific to dairy. Projects can include, but are not limited to: new types or classes of dairy products; new ways to incorporate dairy into other types of value-added products; or new ways of packaging different classes of dairy products to boost sales. Proposals submitted under this category should demonstrate a strong partnership between food or dairy, or both, processors and manufacturers and research institutions, including private operations and those affiliated with institutions of higher education.

 j. Pilot demonstration(s) of blockchain technology in agricultural food systems. Blockchain technology provides a comprehensive ledger of transactions along a supply chain. Blockchain can improve the traceability and transparency of agriculture value chains, enabling consumers to know more confidently the origin of their food products and enabling the Department to ensure chains of custody and product compliance with a wide array of regulatory requirements. The Department will accept research proposals aimed at piloting this technology within specific sectors of agriculture to further test the results of initial research conducted with 2018 funding, and to begin building business processes and partnerships essential to successfully integrating blockchain technology into the Department's toolset.

 k. Market potential of industrial hemp. With the passage of the Federal 2018 Farm Bill, commercial production of hemp has become possible. However, little research exists on the potential market for hemp products, including seeds, oils and fiber. The Department will accept research proposals that seek to quantify the market potential for industrial hemp-derived products, including the most promising products for generating positive returns on investment and barriers to realizing this industry's fullest potential (for example, processing capacity, access to financial services, technology to harvest crops economically and efficiently, and the like). Projects are encouraged that evaluate current research on hemp products such as hemp seed, hemp seed meal and hemp seed oil for use as animal food, and that include resources to shepherd those products through the correct process to be officially recognized as a common animal food ingredient with a standard of identity. CBD and other phytocannabinoids will not be accepted as animal food ingredients for this research project.

 l. Workforce development. Developing a workforce development plan specific to agriculture is a priority of the Department. Initial research suggests nearly 75,000 employment vacancies will occur over the next decade within this Commonwealth's agriculture and food industries. The Department is interested in finding ways to increase the education and training opportunities for people who are high school graduates in the industry who do not wish to participate in post-secondary education. It encourages proposals from entities from within or that support the agriculture and food industry to design and implement micro-credentials or badges that teach specific skills that are not a part of the formal education systems. Interested parties will use a specific format for credential development provided by the Department. Mini-grants not to exceed $2,500 will be used to support development efforts and the process that will be used to evaluate the efficacy of the credential.

 m. Hydroponics and aquaponics. Within this Commonwealth, hydroponics and aquaponics systems have been recognized as both an excellent way to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) knowledge and skills and as cluster of technology which can support additional economic development in the food sector. The Department is interested in supporting action research where a hydroponics and aquaponics practitioner and an academic researcher get together to do research on a problem area that can solve a practical problem. These will be mini-grants of no more than $5,000 which may address issues such as, but not limited to, bringing production to a larger scale, lighting, nutrient solutions, integrated pest management and integration into broader market structures. The practitioner needs to apply the research-based solution and report their results for inclusion on a public database as a part of the project.

 n. Urban agriculture. Urban agriculture and intensive agriculture practices have grown exponentially across this Commonwealth in recent years, with hundreds of projects operating in urban centers. The Department will accept proposals for research projects supported by mini-grants of no more than $5,000 where an urban agriculture practitioner and an academic researcher collaborate to solve a problem related to urban agriculture practice. Topics may include, but are not limited to, season extension, soil testing and remediation, intensive farming, production of new crops, adding value through canning and other forms of preservation, new distribution and marketing processes, and ensuring more reliable access to safe water. The practitioner needs to apply the research-based solution and report their results for inclusion on a public database as a part of the project.

 o. Pesticide impact on sensitive crops. This Commonwealth's increase in organic production, its diverse agriculture, and its blending of agricultural and non-agricultural land use all create complex neighbor interactions related to pesticide use. In particular, sensitive crops are being affected by herbicide drift, which occurs by means of both direct drift and volatilization. The Department will consider research leading to the development of best management practices for producers of sensitive crops and for pesticide applicators working within proximity of sensitive crops. Research should lead to development of educational materials, which may include alternate choices of pesticides or application protocols to minimize drift under certain conditions, or the development of best practices for growers of sensitive crops to prevent unwanted drift from affecting their crops.

 p. Building a noxious weed resource library. The Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee is charged with making changes to this Commonwealth's noxious weed list. There are hundreds of plants that could be considered for the list, and the committee must establish priorities on which weeds to consider. The Department would consider funding a literature review research project on important weeds. Working in conjunction with weed specialists on the committee, the researcher would build a library of pertinent resources to evaluate and prioritize weeds proposed for consideration by the committee. Gaps in available resources would also be identified through this process.

 3. Grant Agreement. The terms and conditions of the grant will be governed by a grant agreement between the Department and the applicant which shall be tendered to the applicant for execution, returnable in no more than 30 days.

 4. Application Delivery and Deadline. Interested applicants must submit a complete electronic research project proposal and grant application using the Department of Community and Economic Development's Electronic Single Application web site at https://www.esa.dced.state.pa.us/Login.aspx by 4 p.m. on Friday, June 28, 2019. Questions regarding this online application process may be directed to Sheila Strubhar, Chief of the Contracts and Procurement Division for the Department, (717) 787-1467.

 5. Scoring of Applications. The Department will evaluate each complete and timely-filed project proposal and grant application it receives, using a 100-point scale assessing:

 a. Up to 10 points for the research project needs statement.

 b. Up to 15 points for the impact of research outcomes.

 c. Up to 5 points for the presence of additional funding partners or matching funds.

 d. Up to 30 points for the research methodology.

 e. Up to 20 points for project evaluation and replicability.

 f. Up to 20 points for support and participation from industry.

 6. Scores. Upon completion of evaluations, the Department will prepare a record identifying each complete and timely-filed project proposal and grant application received and the numerical score assigned to each. The Department shall award grants based upon its evaluation and scoring.

 7. Multiyear Projects or Extensions. The Department may award grant funding for multiyear projects or extensions of an ongoing project, if the Department identifies that a multiyear term or an extension advances the grant's objectives. Requests for extensions of ongoing projects shall be made, evaluated and processed in accordance with all the requirements of this notice.

 8. Notice of Award. Applicants shall be notified by mail of the decision on their grant applications by the Department. Best efforts will be made to do so within 15 days of the application deadline.

 9. Grant Agreement. With the mailed grant award notice, the Department will provide applicants with a grant agreement for execution and return within 30 days. The Department will obtain the required Commonwealth signatures on the grant agreements and return a copy of the fully-executed grant agreement to the applicant. No grant agreement is effective and work should not commence until all required signatures have been applied to the grant agreement. Among the terms of the grant agreement shall be a requirement that the grant recipient provide the Department full and complete access to all records relating to the performance of the project and submit such information as the Department may require.

 10. Nonmatching Cost-Reimbursable Grant. Grants made hereunder do not require the applicant secure or devote a matching sum to the project, but outside funding may be considered as an evaluation criterion under section 5(c) of this solicitation. Payment of grant funds will occur on a reimbursement basis, with the possibility upon the written submission of justification and subsequent approval of the Department of an advance payment option.

 11. Allowable Indirect Cost Reimbursement. Grants made hereunder are subject to an indirect cost cap of 15% of total project costs. For the purpose of this research grant funding solicitation, indirect costs shall include administrative salaries and benefits, office supplies and equipment, facility related cost including maintenance and repairs, telephones, memberships/dues, freight/postage cost and any consultant related costs associated with the administration of this research grant.

 12. Reporting Requirements. Upon completion of research projects funded through this program, grant recipients will submit to the Department within 60 days a final report detailing the nature of the questions under study, an explanation of the research design and methods, findings of the research and recommendations for future study.

RUSSELL C. REDDING, 
Secretary

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 19-786. Filed for public inspection May 24, 2019, 9:00 a.m.]



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