• The Buzz About Pollinators

    Happy National Pollinator Week! This week, we honor the many insects and animals that allow agriculture to flourish. A pollinator is any animal that transfers pollen within a single plant or from one plant to another of the same species, aiding in the reproduction process. There are over 200,000 species that serve as pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds and bats. Even lemurs in Madagascar are pollinators! Healthy pollinator species are directly correlated to a thriving ecosystem. In fact, nearly 75% of all crops require pollination for producing the food we eat and it is estimated that approximately 1/3 of all food and beverage products come from pollinated plants. Farmers rely on pollinator species for higher quality crops and increased yield. Yet pollinators have been declining since at least the mid-20th century. For managed honey bees, their population of 5 million in the 1940s has declined to 2.89 million today – that’s nearly half our bees disappearing! The Monarch butterfly population has declined by 95% just in the past two decades. The deterioration of these various species may be due to factors like increased use of herbicides and pesticides, urbanization, and the spread of invasive species. But it’s not just about numbers. Poor pollinator health leads to lower pollination efficiency, susceptibility to disease, and decreased benefits to crops. We all have something to lose when our pollinators aren't thriving. At FFAR, we believe research and innovation will promote the growth of pollinator populations back to health. In 2017, FFAR awarded more than $7 million to 16 teams to support science and technology to support health and maintenance of various pollinator populations. These projects are funded by more than 50 universities, companies, and organizations committed to improving pollinator health for a total investment of $14 million in pollinator health. By working together, we can restore the health of our pollinators and ensure a flourishing future for agriculture. 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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  • Happy National Ag Week

    Happy National Ag Week! Our closest relationship to Earth is through agriculture – it serves as the foundation on which our country and all of civilization has flourished. This week, we celebrate the farmers, ranchers, and producers who work tirelessly to put food on our tables. Thank you for everything you do to cultivate the abundance provided by American agriculture. But we’re faced with a monumental challenge in the coming years. More food will be consumed in the next 50 years than in the last 7,000 years. We will need to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050 and we must do this with the same about or diminishing land while protecting our national resources. Science is accelerating at breakneck speed. Our ability to couple new tech with what we rapidly discover about living things means that the agricultural enterprise is benefiting so rapidly from research that it is truly breathtaking. I truly believe there is no better time to be engaged in agricultural science and research. America’s support of food and agriculture research has helped us become the world’s leader in agriculture production, but public investment in ag science is declining. Now, more than ever, we need food and agriculture research to help farmers put food on our tables. At FFAR, we believe that public-private partnerships will be essential to spur the innovation we need to feed the world. We must continue to bring together the best and brightest scientists to address challenges in food and agriculture – plus provide them the support they need to make the discoveries that will accelerate innovation. Let’s work together to support agriculture research that spurs innovation and leads us to a future where we all have access to healthy, nourishing food produced by thriving American farms. 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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  • Convening Stakeholders to Discuss Antimicrobial Stewardship Research

    By Tim Kurt, D.V.M., Ph.D., FFAR Scientific Program Director One Health Day was November 3, 2017, and FFAR kicked off the celebration a day early by partnering with the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) at the Antibiotic Stewardship Symposium in Herndon, VA. For three days, veterinarians, researchers, public health experts, livestock producers, and representatives from the animal health industry and Federal and state agencies came together to discuss antibiotic stewardship and its role in the economic and social sustainability of livestock production. FFAR staff attended the symposium to explore research gaps in antibiotic stewardship and farm management practices, and to support collaborative efforts to address these issues. At the conclusion of the symposium, on November 2, FFAR hosted a workshop that focused on identifying area for collaborative research towards enhancing antimicrobial stewardship in livestock production. FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey started the workshop with an introduction to FFAR, followed by Dr. H. Morgan Scott, a professor at Texas A&M, who presented a talk titled “Mitigating the Spread of Residues and Antimicrobial Resistance Genes in the Environment.” Dr. Scott described work to elucidate the spread of Salmonella enterica serovar Heidelberg in a closed community. His results have informed surveillance efforts and the ability to predict infectious disease outbreaks. Dr. Peter Davies, a professor at the University of Minnesota, next presented a talk on microbial selection pressures and food safety. Dr. Davies explored the complexity of antimicrobial resistance - a concept that involves living systems influenced by abiotic factors. He emphasized environmental components of antimicrobial resistance and food safety, which are often overlooked, and suggested that we need to better define selection pressures and quantification of antibiotic use to truly understand the impacts of antibiotic use and reduction. Both Drs. Morgan and Davies discussed challenges to antibiotic stewardship, which provided a segue into small-group discussions of research needs in this area. It was exciting to see that thought-leaders from diverse backgrounds share a common goal of improved antibiotic stewardship. The discussions were very productive and resulted in many recommendations for research that could be supported by FFAR. We look forward to continuing this conversation with potential partners from industry, academic, government and non-governmental organizations as we develop an initiative to support antimicrobial stewardship research. Special thanks to Derecka Alexander for contributing to this post. Learn More FFAR Workshop at the NIAA Antibiotic Symposium: Identifying Priorities and Opportunities for Multi-Stakeholder Research   Related Work FFAR Protein Challenge About the Author Dr. Tim Kurt, D.V.M., Ph.D., joined the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in October 2016 as a Scientific Program Director. Dr. Kurt manages the Protein Challenge, a research portfolio in support of FFAR efforts to enhance and improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins for a growing global population. He also oversees the Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, which awards grants for research to prevent and/or mitigate agricultural pest or pathogen outbreaks. Dr.  Kurt received his D.V.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Colorado State University.


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  • 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, D.V.M., Ph.D., 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 Dr. Tim Kurt, D.V.M., Ph.D., joined the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in October 2016 as a Scientific Program Director. Dr. Kurt manages the Protein Challenge, a research portfolio in support of FFAR efforts to enhance and improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins for a growing global population. He also oversees the Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, which awards grants for research to prevent and/or mitigate agricultural pest or pathogen outbreaks. Dr.  Kurt received his D.V.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Colorado State University.


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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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