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Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative

2022 Request for Proposals!

General Information

The Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (IRAI) is announcing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to support research and demonstration projects involving both University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and community partners. Given the newness of the IRAI and this funding mechanism, we expect this RFA to be modified in response to applicant feedback. Please check this page regularly for updates.



The purpose of this funding is to 1) increase capacity in regenerative agriculture research, extension, and training at UIUC and 2) develop active relationships between academic and stakeholder communities that enable actionable research and enhance adoption of regenerative agriculture practices in the Midwest U.S. To facilitate IRAI goals, we request that applicants clearly define what regenerative agriculture metrics they will assess and expect to affect with their proposed work.


Funding Availability and Timeline

Awards of up to $50,000 will be made for 12-24 month projects beginning Sept. 1, 2022. Funding will be awarded to UIUC and non-UIUC entities as appropriate for project activities (see Budget). Priority will be given to proposals that articulate how these relatively small awards will be used to advance externally funded activities that happen(ed) outside of the award period.


Eligible Applicants

Applicant teams must include at least one UIUC faculty or staff member and at least one member from a stakeholder group. Stakeholder groups are considered broadly and include not only farmers and agribusiness, but also organizations like schools, hospitals, banks, and faith or citizen groups. Given the short duration of project funding, we anticipate that successful applicant teams may already have a working history, and the funded project will be a discrete part of an overarching plan or body of work. It is appropriate to propose projects that bring UIUC researchers into ongoing stakeholder-led efforts and vice versa.



Questions can be sent to Emily Heaton ( and Anya Knecht ( with “IRAI RFP” in the subject line. Please check for updates to this RFP.


Evaluation Criteria

  • Quality and innovativeness of the proposed work
  • Clear articulation of how the proposed work will advance IRAI goals (see Purpose)
  • Clear articulation of regenerative agriculture metrics quantified (e.g., acres planted, product produced, people reached, people trained, etc.)
  • Suitability of the team to tackle the problem at hand
  • Probable impact the proposed work would have on the problem at hand
  • Probable longevity of the team beyond the IRAI funding period
  • Likelihood to increase regenerative agriculture awareness within and beyond the agricultural community


Reporting obligations

Funded teams will be expected to:

  • Meet 30 minutes each month with IRAI leadership for an update on progress, challenges, and spending
  • Contribute to at least one IRAI outreach media (e.g., blogs, podcasts, interviews, factsheets) product per year
  • Report progress on metrics and milestones at the IRAI annual conference.
Application Info; Deadline 6/30!

Your proposal should be submitted as a pdf file composed of the following:

  • Cover page with project title, coinvestigator information (names, affiliations and emails), and 150-word summary.
  • Narrative of maximum 3 single-spaced pages (minimum 11 pt. font; 1-inch margins) not including references. Figures and tables are encouraged. The narrative should describe
    • the overarching goal or problem the team seeks to address;
    • the specific aspect of that goal or problem addressed in this proposal;
    • regenerative agriculture metrics to be assessed (e.g. acres planted, product produced, people reached, people trained, etc.);
    • the potential impact of the proposed work;
    • the approach;
    • and a timeline of activities and deliverables.
  • Team description of up to 2 pages should be used to highlight the team members’ expertise and how the project will be managed to advance IRAI goals of capacity and relationship building between researchers and stakeholders. Who will lead which aspects of the work? Who bears responsibility for which deliverables?
  • 2-page resume or curriculum vitae of proposing team members. Include most relevant education, appointments, activities, funding, publications, and outreach.
  • Budget should be included using the budget template provided. Fringe benefits do not need to be separated from salary for the proposal. No overhead or indirect funds are allowed. Budget disbursement details will be negotiated following selection to ensure UIUC and stakeholders receive funds in a way that best facilitates the project.


Submission Dates and Times

Applications are due by 5 p.m. Central time on Thursday, June 30, 2022. Submit applications through this two-step process:

  • Email a compiled pdf of all proposal sections to Anya Knecht ( with “IRAI Proposal Submission” in the subject line;
  • Complete a google form indicating that you have emailed your submission. Completing this form will provide confirmation that your proposal was submitted and serve as a back-up in case of email delays/issues.
Budget Template, Handy Links

Part of your proposal includes a budget. Email it to us using this template >>>

To confirm that you have emailed your proposal, please also fill out this form >>>

Rely on this webpage for updated details. But for the record, here is a PDF of the original RFP >>>

Frequently Asked Questions about IRAI and the RFP ...

Q: Is the RFP geared more toward research or conservation approaches?

A: We are not geared one way or the other. Integrating both approaches is great.


Q: Is there more interest in projects already underway vs. just getting started?

A: We do not favor one or the other. As long as you can show us the metrics you hope to achieve to measure your success, we are open to projects that are just starting or those who are looking for funding to continue an already established project.


Q: What’s the scale of farms (acreage) of interest to this proposal?

A: There is no limit or range for acreage.


Q: Is there some kind of match-making service for farmers and researchers? How do we find a partner (researcher (in/out of IRAI) vs extension vs other UIUC personnel)? How will IRAI connect people to teams? Will there be an interest survey for people looking for teams?

A: We are currently working on a platform where IRAI people can connect. Outside of this, you are welcome to reach out to folks listed on the meeting registrations, as well as finding a partner through other mediums such as IFN.


Q: How are partnerships supposed to work? We recognize the aim is to bridge between academic and stakeholders, but would like clarification on how that would work?

A: You can tailor your partnership however you would like to best facilitate your project goals. We have no prescribed expectation on how this works. General guidance we can give would be to integrate each component along with your metrics. For example, if you are doing work on cover crops and have an idea for helping farmers adopt them, this may translate into one UIUC person with cover crop experience and research, one farmer, and one seed distributor. In your goals, outline what each person’s expertise brings to the project. 


Q: Can you clarify definition of “regenerative”? Are cover crops terminated by a herbicide considered within the scope of Regenerative?

A: If you can create a proposal based on a metric such as the example above, then yes. We just need to see a roadmap of how you plan to get there.


Q: What additional metrics are you trying to impact? Carbon sequestration might be one. Would individuals educated about regenerative ag be important to the project? Do they have objectives for the program to help inform metrics and assessment of proposals? Does it matter where emphasis/balance is put — education, outreach, research?

A: The metrics are entirely up to you to determine how best to achieve regenerative ag. Yes, individuals educated about RA could be important to the project. Metrics could be anything from cover crops to food security, to carbon sequestration, to water health. Our assessment of proposals is meant to be incredibly broad since there are many approaches which can be taken to help foster regenerative agriculture. All we ask is that your proposal demonstrates how you think you would meet the objective of enabling more regenerative agriculture. There is no set criteria for how much of the project should be education based, outreach, research or other. Some projects may have only one focus area.


Q: As horticulture and other departments shrink will be hard to find people with aligned focus areas for proposals. Thoughts on how to address that?

A: If you are having difficulty making connections in a specific area, just reach out and let us know. We can try to help connect you to potential partners. Email us at or


Q: Does it matter from IRAI whether the UIUC researcher or stakeholder takes the lead?

A: No, any member of the project team can take the lead regardless of affiliation.


Q: A pilot with a cohort with producers and landowners over a 3 year period of time involving technical support, equipment sharing, and market development with a large group of partners – does this fit?

A: Yes, this could certainly be a possibility. We would need to see how you believe this project would help foster regenerative ag. What would the end goal be? Which metrics are you measuring to show the proposals success?


Q: Any constraints on geography of the project? Outside of Illinois? Regional?

A: No constraints of geography. There is a criterion that your proposal has to have the involvement of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign person. However, for all team members there are no constraints on geography. 


Q: Does this RFP cover costs for forming a broader collaborative (ie, researchers, farmers, investors, NGOs, etc) for bigger grant funding mechanisms? How can we use the RFP to access or leverage broader funds and/or accelerate what’s already in place?

A: You can proposal a project up to $50K as a part of a larger project as long as you are still meeting the criteria/metrics for this proposal that you outline. We need to be able to see the outcome of this IRAI funding clearly.


Q: Is it possible to compile a list of the participants and general topic area of interest for this RFP? This may help to form new partnerships and may help to decrease the number of competing grants in the same area. Is there a place where we could describe ongoing projects that have specific needs (expertise, resources, etc). And conversely, if people have potential contributions that they would like to offer — this could facilitate connections

A: Yes, we have shared a list of registrants from the April 9 meeting. We also plan to have a platform for further communication soon.


Q: How can an applicant include other funding into the budget? If this RPF would only fund part of a project?

A: We advise to write out the budget within the confines of $50K maximum, and explain in the project proposal how this filters into the larger project and its impact.


Q: how do we compensate farmers for their time? If we’re adding in to something that’s already happening, can we use funding to accelerate participation in the farms? Honoraria?

A: Include compensation to a farmer or partner in the budget.


Q: Is there a SARE project that this can build on?

A: There are a few ongoing SARE projects that we could put you in touch with if you feel that project aligns with your direction.


Q: Will IRAI provide initial feedback on concepts to see if it fits? Like a pre-proposal.

A: We would be happy to look at a pre-proposal and tell you if we think it is appropriate for this RFP. Please include that it is a pre-proposal in the title and body of the email. Make sure to submit at least three weeks before the proposal deadline.


Q: How do farm to school food programs fit into regenerative ag?

A: This is definitely a direction that regenerative ag would consider a potential proposal.


Q: Will there be another RFP next year? If so, will it be similar to this one.

A: Yes, we anticipate a similar RFP next year. We expect to adapt future funding based on the 2021 outcomes.


Q: Could we have more details on the UIUC personnel requirement? Does staff member include Extension personnel? Personnel at different Institutes? Does Extension count as a UIUC partner?

A: Anyone who is faculty or staff at UIUC can be included. They need to be employed UIUC. Extension is part of the UIUC system.


Q : What is the scope? Does it have to have crops and animals? Can it be just a segment?

A: Scope can be anything you want including anything with regenerative agriculture.


Q: Will it fund a workshop? Education activities?

A: Yes, workshops and education are possible proposals.


Q: How much outreach is required as part of a research project?

A: Outreach is not a requirement of the proposal.


Q: Can we submit a proposal that measures economic factors rather than productive factors? Can proposals include marketing metrics (in addition to or in place of production metrics)?

A: Yes.


Q: Do proposals need to come from non profits or can they come from businesses, producers, etc. Is there a preference for proposals to come from University partner as opposed to from community partner? Do all proposals need to come from and awarded to 501c3 orgs or can businesses/farms apply?

A: Proposals can come from any organization as long as they meet the criteria outlined.  


Q: Can these funds cover staff, travel, events, food, equipment purchase and/or lease, land purchase/lease, technology (or rather, what can it NOT cover — beyond overhead)?

A: The funds can cover anything you need them to in order to make the proposal a success. You just need to provide a budget and justification for each category you are designating the money distribution.


Q: Who will be reviewing/deciding upon these awards?

A: Our advisory board and the project team leads.


Q: How can we connect this to younger generations (4H, FFA, etc.)?

A: We are very supportive of efforts that bring in younger generations through existing organizations. If you need help connecting with these organizations and have a proposal in mind, let us know. Email us at or


Q: What is the role of media and communications in projects?

A: This is up to you to decide. We consider media and communications to be an important part of regenerative ag. They can be included as a stakeholder group or research partner in your proposal. Also if your proposal is addressing media as the focus of your proposal, this is fine too as long as you demonstrate impacts.


Q: Opportunity for urban ag proposals? How much emphasis/prioritization is there on scale?

A: Yes, there is opportunity here for urban ag proposals. The scale is not as important as what it accomplishes. Any medium of regenerative ag will be considered, whether grain farming, organic, livestock, grazing, etc.


Q: Are policy/advocacy proposals allowed?

A: Yes, this is encouraged as well.

Project Overview

icon-natureThe Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (IRAI) fits into the iSEE research theme of Secure and Sustainable Agriculture. Sponsored by Fresh Taste, IRAI is a partnership between the Department of Crop Sciences, the College of ACES, U of I Extension, and iSEE.



The Challenge

Current environmental and economic trends highlight the need for agriculture and food systems that are resilient to climate change, improve soil and water quality, support healthy communities, and enhance food security. A promising approach that has gained considerable traction with farmers and food systems participants is “regenerative agriculture.” Regenerative agriculture represents the opportunity for a new synthesis — an outcome-driven approach — to advancing productivity, profitability, and environmental health in a way that enhances food security, reinvigorates rural and urban communities, and restores the natural systems that life depends on. The core value proposition of this synthesis is that technology and nature are not mutually exclusive.

The interdisciplinary foundation of agriculture, engineering, and computation positions the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to provide global leadership in regenerative agriculture research and innovation.


Get Involved with IRAI >>>



The Solution

The deep academic strengths and mature relationships with a diverse community of stakeholders position the University of Illinois to become a national leader in regenerative ag. This new paradigm in agriculture will be propelled forward by actionable research, designed and conducted collaboratively with stakeholders, at the interface of agronomy, crop science, ecology, computer science, economics, and social dimensions. IRAI will engage all campus assets relevant to regenerative agriculture’s diverse land-based and community outcomes. A mission-critical function of the Initiative will be to facilitate ongoing conversations with key actors in the food system network: producers, landowners, value chains, end users, scientists, NGOs, technology firms, policy makers, the financial sector, and experts in the purposive disciplines (art, philosophy, etc.). IRAI will emphasize:

  • building new collaborative relationships among Illinois scholars to conduct actionable research and train the next generation of practitioners in Regenerative Agriculture (capacity);
  • intimately connect the stakeholder and the academic community in sustained two-way dialogs about research and education, and challenges to adoption and measuring impact (relationships); and
  • heighten the visibility and impact of the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative and secure sustained financial support (sustainability).


More Introductory Info: Podcasts and Videos

Watch our June 2022 video explaining eddy covariance measurements: how an agricultural ecosystem “breathes” >>>

Watch our YouTube of the April 2021 meeting discussing IRAI’s seed funding program and call for proposals >>>

Listen as Emily Heaton discusses perennial grasses with WILL Radio’s Todd Gleason in April 2021 >>> 

Listen as Heaton and Anya Knecht define IRAI for WITY Radio’s Dennis Michelsen on March 18, 2021 >>>

Listen as Heaton and Knecht discuss the College of ACES and improving land and resources on WITY on March 25, 2021 >>>

Watch our YouTube video of the first IRAI meeting Oct. 30, 2020 >>>

Initiative News

Use this form to collaborate in the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative’s project, “Voices of the Land,” which will perform a tapestry of different perspectives on agriculture.

“Voices of the Land” is a small documentary theater project that uses art to tell true stories about how people in our community see agriculture. Any questions can be sent to Azlan Smith, Mellon Fellow in the Public Humanities, at . More information on a similar project is available at

If your story appears in the final script, it will be anonymous. It may be excerpted and edited lightly for the sake of time. “Voices of the Land” aims to explore the connections and tensions in how we think about these topics, and to open new opportunities for us to work together.

News from IRAI Director Emily Heaton and Assistant Director for Operations Anya Knecht nearly one year into the Initiative:

Three teams were selected to receive up to $50,000 in seed funding for their projects after the IRAI call for proposals in Spring 2021. “Each project brings a unique solution and perspective to mobilizing solutions geared toward regenerative agriculture practices and addresses a need within that space,” Heaton said. “We are very excited to see these proposals transform into action.” The details:

  • A study titled “U.S. Chestnut Cultivar Exploration — Integrated Bioprocessing and Quantity” led by Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) Professor Keith Cadwallader; Savanna Institute Tree Crop Commercialization Program Manager William Davison; Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) Pilot Plant Operations Assistant Manager Brian Jacobson; and IBRL Assistant Director of Business Development Bethany Conerty.
  • A study titled “Prototyping an Autonomous Robotic Harvester for Enabling Large-Scale Chestnuts Farming in the U.S.” led by EarthSense Inc. Co-Founder and CEO Chinmay Soman; Davison; and Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science Associate Professor Girish Chowdhary.
  • A study titled “Regenerative Agriculture and the Human Health Nexus in the Age of Climate Change,” led by Basil’s Harvest Executive Director and Chef/Registered Dietitian Erin Meyer; Gastroenterologist and Associate Professor of Medicine Dave Ramkumar; Internist and Associate Professor of Medicine Japhia Ramkumar; Basil’s Harvest Agroecology Solutions and Soil Microbiologist Carl Rosier; Illinois Water Resources Center Director Yu-Feng Forrest Lin; and FSHN Associate Professor Pratik Banerjee.

IRAI plans a second call for proposals in Spring 2022. Said Knecht: “We are hoping for even more engagement and opportunities as we fill the regenerative agriculture ‘Big Tent’ with folks from many disciplines.”

In addition to an introductory meeting in November 2021 and the seed funding meeting in April 2021, IRAI participated in the following events in 2021: Illinois State Fair Ag Day, the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences’ annual Agronomy Day, Farm Foundations, and the Farm Progress Show.

More introductory videos are scheduled to explain the people and the principals behind regenerative ag.

The second Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative public meeting was Friday, April 9, 2021. More than 100 interested researchers, farmers, and organizations joined the discussion as IRAI released its first Request for Proposals (RFP).

The meeting was used to answer questions and network for shared understanding and team development. See the top of this page for more information about the RFP.

In Fall 2020, the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (IRAI) was launched as a new home for regenerative agriculture research, education, and outreach. IRAI receives grant support from Fresh Taste, and brings together stakeholders on campus and beyond to create agriculture and food systems resilient to climate change, improve soil and water quality, support healthy communities, and enhance food security.

In early 2021, IRAI will offer multiple seed grants in an open request for proposals (RFP). These competitive grants will be awarded to interdisciplinary teams of Illinois scholars and farming or food system stakeholders who address key metrics of regenerative agriculture: soil health parameters; on-farm biodiversity; or community health and resilience.

The new Initiative’s objectives and potential seed grant ideas were discussed on Oct. 30, 2020, at an online workshop. View the video of the meeting above or on YouTube >>>

Led by Crop Sciences Professor and Head Adam Davis, Plant Biology Professor and iSEE Founding Director Evan H. DeLucia, iSEE Interim Director Madhu Khanna, and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Dean Kimberlee Kidwell, IRAI will be administered through iSEE along with leaders from Crop Sciences, the College of ACES, and the University of Illinois Extension. IRAI will be led by Emily Heaton of Iowa State, who joins the U of I’s Crop Sciences Department in 2021 as a Professor of Regenerative Agriculture and Extension specialist.

“The aim of regenerative agriculture is to advance the triple bottom line in agriculture — productivity, profitability, and environmental health — in a way that enhances food security, reinvigorates rural and urban communities, and restores the natural systems that life depends on,” said Davis, the lead PI on the Fresh Taste grant.

Regenerative agriculture distinguishes itself from, and yet encompasses, other conventional and sustainable approaches, such as organic production and no-till. Rather than dictating specific on-farm practices, regenerative agriculture is laser-focused on metrics and outcomes.

Said Khanna: “Regenerative agriculture is a promising approach to transforming the agricultural system to make it economically and environmentally sustainable. iSEE is excited to facilitate collaborations between our interdisciplinary research experts and our external partners to advance and apply the science required to realize this promise.”

Read the full news release from the College of ACES >>>


The IRAI Team

Principal Investigators and co-PIs (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign unless otherwise noted)

Project Manager/IRAI Assistant Director for Operations

  • Anya Knecht, Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE)

2021 Seed-Funded IRAI Teams

  • “U.S. Chestnut Cultivar Exploration — Integrated Bioprocessing and Quantity”
    • Keith Cadwallader, Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
    • William Davison, Tree Crop Commercialization Program Manager, Savanna Institute
    • Brian Jacobson, Pilot Plant Operations Assistant Manager, Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory
    • Bethany Conerty, Assistant Director of Business Development, Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory
  • “Prototyping an Autonomous Robotic Harvester for Enabling Large-Scale Chestnuts Farming in the U.S.”
    • Chinmay Soman, Co-Founder and CEO, EarthSense Inc.
    • William Davison, Tree Crop Commercialization Program Manager, Savanna Institute
    • Girish Chowdhary, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Computer Science
  • “Regenerative Agriculture and the Human Health Nexus in the Age of Climate Change”
    • Erin Meyer, Executive Director and Chef/Registered Dietitian, Basil’s Harvest
    • Dave Ramkumar, Gastroenterologist and Associate Professor of Medicine
    • Japhia Ramkumar, Internist and Associate Professor of Medicine
    • Carl Rosier, Agroecology Solutions and Soil Microbiologist, Basil’s Harvest
    • Yu-Feng Forrest Lin, Director, Illinois Water Resources Center
    • Pratik Banerjee, Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition


Publications & Presentations

(iSEE project members’ names in bold)

  • Coming soon!