Ag funding success ‘broad and deep’ throughout departments, extension
WSU’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC) has increased its grant funding from $27.7 million to $48.9 million in four years, an increase of 77 percent.
“It’s actually been kind of extraordinary,” said Michael Kahn, associate director of ARC. Participation in federally funded research “is broad and deep, involving most of our departments and all of the research and extension centers.”
Over the last four years, the academic and extension programs in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) have been awarded $175 million.
Historically, Kahn said, the federal government has been much more supportive of health research than agricultural research, meaning a large group of agricultural researchers are chasing a fairly small pot of funding. While the National Institutes of Health still has far more money than the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said, in recent years there have been more opportunities to compete for large, multidisciplinary USDA grants, and WSU has done very well.
“I think the point is that we’ve got really good people,” he said.
CAHNRS Associate Dean Ralph Cavalieri, ARC director, echoed that thought: “We’ve got a wonderful faculty that buys into the dream of excellence that we are focused on.”
According to Cavalieri, three factors helped ARC nearly double its research funding in four years: opportunity, timing and effort.
In recent years, he said, the federal government has created more competitive grant programs in areas that match WSU strengths, including basic and applied plant science, specialty crops and biofuels and bioproducts. So WSU was able to write extremely strong proposals.
Meanwhile, CAHNRS and ARC had been making strategic hires. They helped build capacity, he said, putting WSU in a stronger position for large, multidisciplinary projects like those offered by the USDA for specialty crops.
For instance, since the beginning of the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative in 2008, WSU has received commitments for more than $23 million for projects initiated at WSU and as subcontractors for projects at other institutions. By state, Washington ranks a close second to California in the funds obtained from this program in 2008-2010.
Those grants “fit us well, and the timing was great,” Cavalieri said.
Finally, faculty and staff are pursuing grants large and small with increased vigor, he said, and CAHNRS has created programs and incentives to support their efforts.
“As faculty have seen the state budget decline, they see that our success as an institution and their success as scientists is increasingly dependent on obtaining federal competitive grants,” Cavalieri said.
PULLMAN, Wash. – While state funding for public education continues to shrink, there is one column of the Washington State University ledger that has been growing: funding for research and development. From 2008 to 2011, grant funding at WSU has grown from $154 million to $237 million, an increase of 54 percent.
In the past four years, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Agricultural Research Center (ARC) have nearly doubled their grant funding, from about $27 million each in 2008 to more than $48 million each in 2011. The College of Sciences and the College of Engineering and Architecture have seen increases of more than $10 million each in grant funding, with each growing to $27 million in 2011.
While WSU’s grant funding increased by 54 percent, the amount of grant money it applied for increased by 60 percent. The ARC was the most active, submitting proposals asking for $88 million in 2008, $163 million in 2009 and $243 million in 2011.
Multidisciplinary pursuits
In 2011, faculty submitted 404 multidisciplinary proposals (involving more than one department), an increase of 20 percent from 2008. Of those, 184 were funded. In all, the Office of Research and Grant Development received 1,850 awards last year.
“Our aggressive pursuit of multidisciplinary proposals was intentional and strategic,” said Howard Grimes, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School. “The nature of federal funding continues to evolve in these directions. Our anticipation of these changes, and the eagerness of our faculty to participate, positioned our university at the forefront of many of these efforts.”
Support for facilities, collaboration
As part of the effort, Grimes said, the Office of Research has used facilities and administrative (F&A) fees to make strategic investments in several areas, including laboratory facilities, computer capacity and administrative support. Since 2008, the following facilities have been upgraded: the Biomolecular X-Ray Crystallography Center, the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center, the Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioanalysis, and the Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center.

His office also has attempted to alleviate some of the burden on faculty by creating the university’s first proposal management unit (PMU), providing support to researchers who are working to create large collaborative proposals. So far, he said, WSU teams working with the unit have earned $48.4 million in funded proposals.

Federal, state, private funding
From 2008 to 2011, the top federal sponsors have been the U.S. Department of Agriculture (771 grants totaling $102 million); federal Health and Human Services/National Institutes of Health (368 grants totaling $85 million); and the National Science Foundation (423 grants totaling $82 million).
Included in some of those figures is nearly $49 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds, about a third of which went to an energy program project.
Another important source of research funding has been Washington’s agricultural commissions, which have contributed more than $20 million over the past four years. The Washington Grain Commission funded 109 proposals totaling more than $6 million. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission funded 148 projects for nearly $6 million.
Among state agencies, the top sources of funding for WSU research have been the Department of Social and Health Services ($38 million); Commerce ($22 million); and the Life Sciences Discovery Fund ($7 million).
Strategic hires, priorities
According to Grimes, WSU will remain at the forefront because of the foundations that have been laid over the past two to three years.
“In just the past year we have made strategic hires that allow WSU to go after new funding sources around several areas in clean energy technology,” he said. “Furthermore, our faculty are ahead of the curve in understanding the paradigm shifts in thinking about the interconnectedness between sciences, social sciences and the humanities.”
Funding will continue to move toward the “grand challenges,” he said, and WSU has identified strategic priorities in areas including smart grid networks, infectious disease, materials science and climate change. Those areas will be pursued with vigor, he said, and he and his staff in collaboration with faculty continue to seek out other “deep pockets” and forge new partnerships among federal as well as private and non-government funding sources.
“The bottom line is, we’ve just begun,” Grimes said.
For more information about WSU research, go here.
Howard Grimes, Office of Research, 509-335-6412,

Media contact:
Hope Belli Tinney, 509-335-8741,