Here We Go…

What an exciting week here at FFAR! We announced our first two programs at the conclusion of what had been a spectacular Board Meeting and public forum. I can only say, whew! That was some week. Thanks to all who participated in the public meeting. We heard a number of interesting ideas for potential partnerships, programs and how we might develop the FFAR organization. It’s always helpful to get the temperature of the community especially when we are in our formative years as a new organization.

Let me tell you a bit about the thinking behind our two inaugural programs: the New Innovator Program and the Rapid Response Program. The New Innovator Program will fund up to ten outstanding individuals who are early in their faculty careers to pursue innovative research on one or more of the FFAR topic areas. We will provide a substantial award for three years to allow this individual and those who work with him or her to be “unfettered” in their pursuit of great science that will have a positive impact on agriculture or food systems.

The idea is to capture young scientists and keep their work firmly directed towards agriculture or food issues. As you know, scientists, being the entrepreneurs they must be in order to support their programs, often direct their research towards the funding agency with the most funds for extramural support. Thus these scientists, knowing that their chances are greater with larger agencies like NSF and NIH, may redirect their research to meet the goals of those agencies. We therefore are hoping to move the needle, even if ever so slightly, towards supporting those great minds that are most interested in agriculture from the onset and keep them on the agriculture trajectory. And we are going to review them not only for their great ideas, but for their abilities to pay it forward to the next generation of scientists by being capable mentors.

The philosopher Plutarch said “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” and that is what we hope our New Innovators will do with their students and postdocs: kindle the fires of imagination that will spark new ideas for agriculture in the years to come.

Our authority through the Farm Bill means that we must match each FFAR dollar with a dollar from a donor or partner. For the New Innovator program, we have a number of potential donors lined up but are still looking for others who share our passion for the early career investigator and what their future holds.

Our second program, Rapid Response, is designed to address urgent issues in our agriculture and food systems. In many ways, it is possible because we are a non-profit who doesn’t have all the same constraints that a Federal agency might have when deploying grants or funds. As a non-profit we can move rapidly on both our decision making and funding mechanisms. We believe if an urgent issue emerges that is national in scope, acute in nature and where funds for research and related activities will drive a solution, we can make decisions and issue funds in a matter of weeks. So the decision-making process will fall among a small group of people working in close collaboration with the USDA. In this case, the matching requirement will be a critical element to make or break the program as we must be proactive at attracting the required match so as not to slow down the process.

We are working on the specifics of both these programs and hope to have a Request for Applications for the New Innovator program by the end of the year, and the Rapid Response processes more fully formed during
that same time frame. In the meantime, two more exciting programs will be announced in the very near future that will further define the future of our fledgling organization that is spreading its wings in many different directions.

Hope you are able to fly with us as our new opportunities unfold.

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