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 talented individuals working toward innovation in their respective fields and working in FFAR research topic areas. Applicants were selected on scientific merit, as well as demonstrated commitment to mentoring; it is our hope that these talented individuals will not only go on to make significant contributions to the food and agriculture enterprise, but also inspire other young scientists to follow in their footsteps. Our great partners in these awards are the home institutions of the awardees who will provide half the funding for these outstanding individuals.  We thank the institutions for not only nominating a inspiring cadre of talent from which we chose, but demonstrating their support of their faculty and the FFAR mission through the match that was provided.

Without further ado, the following are the nine New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award winners:

Nutrition and Healthy Food Choices

  • Mary Anne Roshni Amalaradjou, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

Dr. Amalaradjou will investigate the effect of dairy foods on gut health using mice as a model.

  • Geoffrey Fisher, Ph.D., Cornell University

Dr. Fisher will explore new ways of promoting healthy food choices through using a variety of eye tracking techniques to investigate how attention to food attributes such as healthiness, tastiness, calories and packaging, might affect food purchasing decisions.

Plant Efficiency

  • Mary Jamieson, Ph.D., Oakland University

Dr. Jamieson will use her New Innovator grant to investigate beneficial insects and the ecosystem services they provide, such as pollination and pest control, in urban agriculture environments.

  • Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi, Ph.D., Purdue University

Dr. Iyer-Pascuzzie seeks to improve plant disease mitigation by investigating which genes are associated with root-mediated resistance, how diseases changes root architecture, and whether roots and shoots signal each other to suppress disease symptoms

Soil Health

  • Amelie Gaudin, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Dr. Gaudin’s research will explore the relationship between root systems, soil health promoting practices, and crop productivity in order to shed light on how breeders and producers can grow more productive and resilient crops using sustainable practices at a large scale.

  • Lisa Tiemann, Ph.D., Michigan State University

Dr. Tiemann’s research will focus on the interactions between crop diversity, soil microorganisms and soil organic matter, and how they may be managed to enhance soil services and sustainably increase crop yields.

Sustainable farm animal productivity, resilience, and health

  • Crystal Levesque, Ph.D., South Dakota State University

Dr. Levesque aims to increase protein production from pigs, while reducing inputs and environmental impacts through her research on dietary requirements during sow pregnancy.

  • Benjamin Reading, Ph.D., North Carolina State University

Dr. Reading will use artificial intelligence to determine the genetic factors responsible for heterosis, or instances of offspring performing better than their parents, in hybrid striped bass.

Water Use

  • Isaya Kisekka, Ph.D., Kansas State University

Dr. Kisekka’s research will integrate data related to agricultural water use from a number of sources including soils, weather, and plant-based measurements to develop methods and tools for optimizing water use in agriculture.

Each research award recipient is doing impactful work that will fill critical gaps in one of FFAR’s seven research areas. I look forward to following and sharing the New Innovators’ progress on their research projects under the New Innovator program, and the continued success that will surely follow.

I encourage you to take a look at all nine projects and the impressive individuals pursuing them, and invite you to learn more about the program in our press release.

–Sally Rockey, Executive Director

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity


Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss


About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability


Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems


The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.