FFAR Awards $1 Million Grant to Combat Water Scarcity and Increase Yields

MANHATTAN, KS and WASHINGTON (July 16, 2019) – The production of food and fiber consumes 70 percent of the world’s water, placing a burden on farmers to increase water productivity and efficiency. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $1 million Seeding Solutions grant to Kansas State University to increase water-efficient crop yields. Kansas State University, Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission, Corteva Agriscience, Collaborative Sorghum Investment Program, and University of California matched the FFAR grant for a total $2 million investment.

Many regions in the United States struggle with water scarcity, which threatens ecosystem sustainability and farmers’ livelihoods. To combat the effects of water scarcity, farmers need access to more diversified farming systems that balance water conservation with crop productivity and environmental sustainability. Crops like sorghum can diversify the farming system to balance conservation with productivity while supporting the vitality of rural communities. However, the use of these crops has declined partly because of the lag in genetic gain for minor crops, when compared to other crops like corn, and soybeans.

Scientists have developed a genome-to-phenome (G2P) breeding approach that combines crop modeling, genomic prediction and managed-stress experiments to increase water-limited yields in corn. This transformative approach that improves crops using G2P breeding was developed by project collaborator, Corteva. Kansas State University is using the FFAR grant to extend the G2P approach in underutilized crops like sorghum. Researchers are optimistic that if water-efficient crops produce greater yields, farmers will be more willing to diversify their fields.

“This project has the potential to increase yields of crops that grow using less water, and when planted alongside leading crops, can better distribute the existing water in the soil and supporting thriving farms,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “Using this new approach, Kansas State can boost yields and conserve limited water resources. This work could be a breakthrough for sustainability and profitability.”

Researchers are using sorghum as a model to determine how this breeding approach can effectively lay the groundwork for increased yields for water-efficient crops. The successful implementation of this breeding approach could increase crop diversity and overall productivity of crops in water-scarce environments. This project engages early career plant breeders and scientists to learn and adopt this breeding technique.

“Getting high yield and water efficiency from the same crop is a challenge, but G2P breeding navigates around the trade-offs” says Dr. Geoffrey Morris, Associate Professor, Agronomy at Kansas State University “We’re excited to bring the G2P approach to sorghum and other water-efficient crops”.”

FFAR’s Seeding Solutions grant program is an open call for bold ideas that address a pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. This research supports FFAR’s 2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area, currently the Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area. FFAR’s work in this area focuses on increasing water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reducing agricultural water pollution and developing water reuse technologies.

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Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges.  FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking |

Corteva Agriscience

Corteva Agriscience provides farmers around the world with the most complete input portfolio in the industry to enable them to maximize yield and profitability — including some of the most recognized brands in agriculture: Pioneer®, Granular®, Brevant™ seeds, as well as award-winning Crop Protection products — while bringing new products to market through its robust pipeline of active chemistry and technologies. The company is committed to working with stakeholders throughout the food system as it fulfills its promise to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. Corteva Agriscience became an independent public company on June 1, 2019 and was previously the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont. More information can be found at www.corteva.com.

Connect: @Corteva

Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission

Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission provides value to Kansas sorghum farmers through investments in research, market development, education and promotion.

Kansas State University

K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.