Eighteen historically Black colleges and universities recently received grants from the Department of Agriculture to strengthen their research and teaching capabilities and better recruit and train students in agriculture, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Sept. 9.

This year, grants totaling $50 million were awarded through the department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which supports historically Black institutions that were designated as land-grant universities in the Second Morrill Act of 1890.

“Our 1890 historically Black land-grant universities play a critical role teaching students to meet the high quality, innovative research needs that are vital to the wellbeing of our nation’s food, fuel and fiber,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “These awards mark a substantial investment in addressing the robust and varied research challenges facing the American agriculture today, but more importantly it is also an investment in our future scientists and engineers, farmers and foresters.”

The funds were distributed through two of the institute’s grant programs: the 1890 Institution Research, Extension and Teaching Capacity Building Grant program and the 1890 Facilities Grants program.

The former program focuses on improving cultural diversity in the scientific and professional workforce by seeking out and educating more students from unrepresented groups, while the latter provides funds to better equip universities for research and other academic needs.

In fiscal year 2010, the institute awarded $32,514,064 through the Capacity Building Grants Program and $18,979,200 through the Facilities Grants Program.

Florida A&M University, Southern University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore were among the schools to receive the most awards in the Capacity Building Grant program, while Prairie View A&M University, Lincoln University and North Carolina A&T received the most funds in the Facilities Grants program.

“This has been a monumental year for UMES in terms of the competitive funding we have received from the USDA as well as the number of projects that have been funded,” Dr. Gladys Shelton, interim dean of the University of Maryland School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences and director of the 1890 Agricultural Experiment Station recently told the AFRO. “Our researchers have done an excellent job of designing studies that address regional and national issues; and through partnering with the USDA, we are able to enhance our research capabilities.”