By Lynnette Harris

Western Region SARE Center at Utah State University Receives $4.2 Million

A small office in Utah State University’s Ag Science Building seems an unlikely epicenter for $4.2 million per year in funding that supports sustainable agriculture efforts that reach half way around the world, but the United States Department of Agriculture-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program’s regional office at USU administers projects in the 13 western states and the U.S. Pacific island protectorates of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan) and Micronesia (Pohnpei).

The Western SARE program was recently awarded $4.2 million to promote sustainability in agriculture throughout its region, bringing the amount of funding the office has brought to USU to more than $55 million since the university was designated the program’s host institution 16 years ago. “

For a small office we have a tremendous impact, handling millions of dollars to benefit the agricultural community in the entire Western region, from Guam to Last Chance, Colorado,” said USU soil scientist Phil Rasmussen, the Western SARE Center’s director. “The program covers roughly half the land mass of the U.S. and climates ranging from tropical to arctic.”

Researchers, Extension educators, farmers and ranchers apply for SARE grants, which are used to explore, develop or promote some aspect of agricultural sustainability, a term which includes healthy environments, profitable farms and ranches, strong families and communities.

In addition to the benefits of bringing millions of dollars through the university, Teryl Roper, head of USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate, said, “USU undergraduate and graduate students involved in studying sustainable agriculture gain a broader perspective of the country’s agricultural landscape. Their education at Utah State is truly multi-dimensional thanks to their exposure to, and involvement with the wide diversity of production systems found in these grants.”

Grants may involve projects like creating sustainable on-farm energy sources, no-till carbon sequestration, high-tunnel vegetable and berry production, and the commodities studied range from crabs to cattle and from mangoes to melons.

The grants themselves are making a big impact. A recent survey of 150 Farmer/Rancher Grant recipients showed that more than half have reduced soil erosion because of the work conducted on their grant, and three-quarters of them improved soil quality. Half improved air and water quality, and two-thirds improved the quality of wildlife habitat. Further, 64 percent of respondents said the grant helped them increase their gross sales and net income.

Rasmussen said the program also creates opportunities for USU’s College of Agriculture by providing exposure that extends USU’s reach and world-wide impact. 

The Western SARE Center funds 70 to 80 projects each year in its region. Since SARE began in 1988, the Western region has funded nearly 1,100 projects. The funding comes from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture under a cooperative agreement with USDA.

Western SARE research and Extension grants are available in five categories: Research & Education grants, which typically fund university-level research on agricultural topics; Professional Development Program grants, which fund projects in which educators teach other educators about sustainable agriculture practices; Farmer/Rancher grants, which fund farmers and ranchers to explore on-farm practices in sustainability; Professional + Producer grants, which are typically conducted by Extension agents cooperating with local farmers or ranchers; and Graduate Fellow grants, which fund projects for master’s and Ph.D. students.

Calls for Proposals for the 2011 grant awards are available on the Western SARE website. For more information on Western SARE or its grants programs, call 435-797-2257 or email


Phil Rasmussen; 435-797-3394;

Lynnette Harris, 435-797-2189;