• The Time is RIPE for Agricultural Innovation

    By Sally Rockey, FFAR Executive Director Greetings from Champaign, Illinois! By now you’ve heard about the groundbreaking RIPE project and its quest to improve photosynthetic efficiency in plants. I had the pleasure of joining co-funders from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and U.K. Department of International Development along with agricultural leaders and USDA representatives to see firsthand where the innovation happens during the RIPE Reinvestment event at the University of Illinois. From left to right: FFAR Board Member Pam Johnson, RIPE Deputy Director Don Ort, FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey, and University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones.   RIPE, or Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, researchers have already redesigned photosynthesis to increase test crop yields by 20 percent. Now, with an additional $45 million investment, the team of University and USDA scientists is working to provide those same yield increases to soybeans, cassava, and cowpeas. Imagine what this could mean in the fight against world hunger. Farmers across the world could produce more food simply by harnessing the power of the sun. There is endless potential in this project to improve human health and increase economic opportunities for farmers.   Johannes Kromdijk, Postdoctoral Researcher for RIPE, explained the rigorous process of studying the photosynthetic process of plants in his lab in the Carl. R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois.   The RIPE team brings together experts from around the world to look at photosynthesis – the process that makes a plant a plant! It’s basic for plant survival, yet it can be very inefficient. By studying plant genetics, RIPE will lead the way in creating crops that will feed the world. Tackling big problems with big science is what FFAR is all about. It was amazing to see how many labs and researchers are involved in this project, not only at University of Illinois but also at partner institutions across the U.S. and overseas – it really is a team effort! I’m excited to see what discoveries they make and how it will change the world. I’m proud to support RIPE researchers and their work toward ending hunger with innovative science.     About the Author Dr. Sally Rockey became the inaugural Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in September 2015. Prior to this role, Dr. Rockey was a leader in Federal research, overseeing the operations of the extramural programs in both agriculture and biomedicine.  She spent 19 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before taking on the extramural research program at the National Institutes of Health. As Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Dr. Rockey led groundbreaking initiatives and activities that have and will have a lasting positive impact on the research community. Dr. Rockey received her Ph.D. in Entomology from the Ohio State University.


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  • A Look at Maine Aquaculture

    By Tim Kurt, FFAR Scientific Program Director Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Maine and take part in a tour of aquaculture research, production and processing facilities. The tour was hosted by Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association and included several members of the Gulf Seafood Institute, including commercial fishermen from Louisiana and Alabama. Researchers from Southern Mississippi State University, as well as representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aquaculture Association (NAA) also attended. The tour group spent time at the Cooke Aquaculture Atlantic salmon hatchery facilities, observed net pens by boat, and visited a salmon processing plant. The tour also visited the USDA-ARS National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center and the Hollander & de Koning mussel processing plant. Offshore pens for Atlantic salmon at Cooke Aquaculture. Aquaculture, or water-based farming, is conducted in fresh or salt water using both offshore and land-based systems. Fish have an incredible almost 1:1 feed conversion rate, meaning that they convert virtually all of their feed to protein. This results in a very low footprint from feed production for aquaculture. In the U.S., well-managed aquaculture farms really use little land or freshwater resources, produce little waste, and use few (if any) antibiotics or other drugs. In the coastal environment, the Maine experience shows that aquaculture can complement, and even enhance, wild fisheries. Local fishermen in Maine have found that the artificial reef-like structures of the aqua-farms and the congregations of fish actually result in flourishing sea life around the farms. Recent advances, including feeds that use plant-materials supplemented with taurine or byproducts from fish processing, enable the production of fish with little impact on wild fisheries. In addition to producing locally-sourced, sustainable seafood, aquaculture may allow future generations to continue earning a living on the water. Commercial fisheries and aquaculture production can complement to each other and Maine’s experience shows that both industries contribute to sustainable fish, shellfish and seaweed production. Getting up close and personal with salmon at the USDA ARS National Coldwater Marine Aquaculture Center.   About the Author Tim Kurt, DVM, Ph.D., is passionate about the fundamental role of science, and especially veterinary science, in enhancing sustainable agriculture, food security and improving people’s lives. At FFAR, Dr. Kurt is developing animal research programs to support innovative biological and management approaches to preventing and controlling infectious diseases and reducing reliance on medically-important antibiotics, reducing environmental impacts of livestock production, farm-animal welfare research and aquaculture research. He also oversees the Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, which supports efforts to prevent and/or mitigate agricultural pest or pathogen outbreaks.


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  • Getting Smarter During Smart Irrigation Month

    Guest Co-Author: Deborah M. Hamlin, CEO, Irrigation Association  Pivot irrigation systems are one…


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  • FFAR Open House Reception

    Last week, FFAR staff welcomed visitors to our first open house reception. We’d like to thank Kansas Senator Pat Roberts for his opening remarks and continued support for agricultural…


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  • Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms: New Cover Crop Initiative

    Today, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation announced a $6.6 million initiative to improve soil health through development and adoption of cover…


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  • First FFAR Grantees: Meet the 2016 New Innovators

    Today I am honored to announce the first scientists to receive Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grants. Our New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award program sought…


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  • FFAR at the Borlaug Dialogue: Celebrating the New NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

    Greetings from Des Moines, Iowa! By now you’ve heard a lot from me about the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences Established by the Foundation for…


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  • Next Great Frontier in Plant Breeding: Phenomics

    As the first half of 2016 has proved to be the hottest ever recorded, Earth is on track to have yet another…


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  • Phytobiome: Emerging Potential

    A reflection on FFAR’s Phytobiome Convening Event Incredible challenges face the agricultural enterprise today: water…


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  • Honoring & Inspiring Future Breakthroughs: New Prize

    It is with great pride that I announce the new National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.  With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,…


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