Prairie Research Institute

Prairie Research Institute – Center for Digital Agriculture Joint Research Program

Proposal Deadline: Friday, March 15, 2024 at 5:00 PM
Program Contact: Brian Pianfetti
Proposal Templates folder:
Proposal Submission form: Submission Form
Maximum Award: $30,000
Period of Award: All funds must be spent within 12 months of the award date.

Synopsis of Program                      

The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA) are embarking on a new partnership by creating a joint research program. This is an exciting opportunity to unite PRI’s scientific expertise in geology, ecology and biodiversity, archaeology, hydrology and water, weather and climate, pollution prevention, and sustainable energy with the agricultural and digital focus of CDA. This initiative aims to stimulate collaborative research and development activities, sponsored funding, private sector partnerships, workforce development and training, and service to the State of Illinois and beyond. Successful collaborations are expected to lead to growth in funding opportunities and to support successful faculty, research staff, and student recruitment.

Program Goals: The goal of this request for proposals is to connect PRI and CDA researchers by providing the funding needed to allow these teams to begin to work together to find innovative solutions for important societal challenges. The proposed research should work toward solutions using AI/ML or other digital technologies to enhance agriculture sustainability. This could include but is not limited to improving the operational efficiency of systems, gathering information (estimating land use, crop type, predicting flood risk, etc.), forecasting (energy demand, etc.), tools for speeding up simulations (emulating parts of climate models, etc.), and accelerating scientific discovery. Proposals that utilize existing datasets in novel ways, for example as training data or for data mining, are encouraged.

Funding: A wide range of project types and exploratory research efforts are welcome. Preference will be given to projects that have research and collaborative plans that show a clear path to self-sustaining funding and may ultimately lead to external initiatives. Teams should submit a one-year budget with a maximum of $30,000. This funding is anticipated to support expenditures for exercises like mini-workshops (with internal and external participants) or preliminary research to strengthen the team for external competitive grants. The proposed scope of research efforts should be aligned with the program funding levels.

Growth Expectations: In addition to making progress in scientific and technical terms, and enhancing collaboration between CDA and PRI, each project will be expected to submit external proposals to sustain the joint projects beyond year one. During these initial awards, the PRI Office of the Associate Director of Research, in collaboration with the PI’s home unit, will help awarded teams in identifying potential opportunities.

Eligibility Information

Team composition: An ideal project team would engage faculty from both the Center for Digital Agriculture and the Prairie Research Institute. The ambition is to result in a joint CDA/PRI externally award.

Limit on number of proposals: Individuals can be PI on only one submission per competition but may serve as Co-PI on other proposals. 

Proposal Preparation

  1. Document Format requirements:
    1. Arial 10/Times New Roman 11pt (or similar size), 1-inch margins, standard line and character spacing, single column, and portrait layout. Tables/figures can be smaller sizes but must be readable.
    2. PI last name, Unit, and page number in header/footer
  2. Please use Microsoft Word Template (
  3. Cover Page (1-Page Maximum, not counted toward page limit)
    1. Descriptive Title of project (no more than 180 characters)
    2. Participant Table with Name, Affiliation (CDA Area/Survey), Relevant Expertise, Role (PI/CoPI/ Collaborator etc.), and email address of each participant
    3. 150-200 word abstract
    4. 2-3 Topical Keywords
  4. Project Narrative (Maximum 3 Pages)
    1. Overview & Motivation for Research
    2. Describe the sustainable digital agriculture challenge
    3. Goals and ObjectivesResearch & Collaboration Plan (task based with timeline)
    4. Anticipated Scientific Outcomes & Impacts of research
    5. Follow-up Funding/Growth Plan (campus and external opportunities)
    6. References (not counted toward page limit)
  5. Budget Summary Template & Justification
  6. CV of PI and Co-PIs (Any format, 3-page max per person)

Proposal Submission

  1. Proposals are due by Friday, March 15, 2024, at 5:00 PM
  2. Proposals will be submitted through the OVCR Special Program system: TBD
  3. Upload the following separate documents:
    1. Cover Page (1-page Max)
    2. Project Narrative (3 Page max)
    3. Summary Budget & Justification
    4. CV of PRI Lead (3-page max)
    5. CV of CDA Lead (3-page max)

Please send any questions regarding this proposal to Brian Pianfetti at or Christina Tucker at

Review Process

Evaluation Criteria:  Successful proposals will have compelling responses to the following:

  1. Potential of team success:
    1. Why this specific topic? Does this project focus describe a compelling need for the proposed research that also has the potential to have meaningful national/international sustainable digital agriculture impacts and a pathway to implementation in agriculture.
      1. Why is now the right time to pursue this research? What recent technological advances, societal priorities, or changes to government policies have occurred that make this proposal cycle the best opportunity to succeed.
      2. Why this team? How does the complimentary expertise, partnerships, and opportunities that this team brings together uniquely position them for success.
    2. How well do the goals and objectives align with the Center for Digital Agriculture? How well do these activities foster new collaborations across the University? How well do the goals and objectives align with one or more of the four CDA Focus Areas?
    3. Does the team have a sound plan and research potential for growing the research effort to secure self-sustaining funding, and does the initiative have a path to a large-scale funded research program?

Review Panel: PRI Office of the Associate Director of Research will coordinate confidential reviews of all proposals, and reviewers will be asked to disclose any possible conflicts of interest for all proposals they are assigned. Reviewers will be selected based on the topics submitted and comprised of representatives from CDA and PRI.

Award Administration

Award Conditions: Funded projects will be monitored quarterly to track integration and progress. A full project evaluation using the program review criteria and expenditure reports will take place at the end of each year. 

Reporting Requirements:

  1. Awardees will be required to submit a brief quarterly progress report using specified activities
  2. Awardees will be required to submit a brief outcome and impact cumulative summary and slide using a specifically provided template in December of the final year of funding.