• Technology to screen for higher-yielding crop traits is now more accessible to scientists

    CHAMPAIGN (March 17, 2020)-- Like many industries, big data is driving innovations in agriculture. Scientists seek to analyze thousands of plants to pinpoint genetic tweaks that can boost crop production—historically, a Herculean task. To drive progress toward higher-yielding crops, a team from the University of Illinois is revolutionizing the ability to screen plants for key traits across an entire field. In two recent studies—published in the Journal of Experimental Botany (JExBot) and Plant, Cell & Environment (PC&E)—they are making this technology more accessible. “For plant scientists, this is a major step forward,” said co-first author Katherine Meacham-Hensold, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois who led the physiological work on both studies. “Now we can quickly screen thousands of plants to identify the most promising plants to investigate further using another method that provides more in-depth information but requires more time. Sometimes knowing where to look is the biggest challenge, and this research helps address that." This work is supported by Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is creating more productive food crops by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yields. RIPE is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID). The team analyzed data collected with specialized hyperspectral cameras that capture part of the light spectrum (much of which is invisible to the human eye) that is reflected off the surface of plants. Using hyperspectral analysis, scientists can tease out meaningful information from these bands of reflected light to estimate traits related to photosynthesis. “Hyperspectral cameras are expensive and their data is not accessible to scientists who lack a deep understanding of computational analysis,” said Carl Bernacchi, a research plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “Through these studies, our team has taken a technology that was out of reach and made it more available to our research community so that we can unearth traits needed to provide farmers all over the world with higher-yielding crops.” The RIPE project analyzes hundreds of plants each field season. The traditional method used to measure photosynthesis requires as much as 30 minutes per leaf. While newer technologies have increased efficiency to as little as 15 seconds per plant, the study published in JExBot has increased efficiency by an order of magnitude, allowing researchers to capture the photosynthetic capacity of hundreds to thousands of plants in a research plot. In the JExBot study, the team reviewed data from two hyperspectral cameras; one that captures spectra from 400-900 nanometers and another that captures 900-1800 nanometers. “Our previous work suggested that we should use both cameras to estimate photosynthetic capacity; however, this study suggests that only one camera that captures 400-900 is required,” said co-first author Peng Fu, a RIPE postdoctoral researcher who led the computational work on both studies. In the PC&E study, the team resolved to make hyperspectral information even more meaningful and accessible to plant scientists. Using just 240 bands of reflectance spectra and a radiative transfer model, the team teased out how to identify seven important leaf traits from the hyperspectral data that are related to photosynthesis and of interest to many plant scientists. “Our results suggest we do not always need ‘high-resolution’ reflectance data to estimate photosynthetic capacity,” Fu said. “We only need around 10 hyperspectral bands—as opposed to several hundred or even a thousand hyperspectral bands—if the data are carefully selected. This conclusion can help pave the way to make meaningful measurements with less expensive cameras.” These studies will help us map photosynthesis across different scales from the leaf level to the field level to identify plants with promising traits for further study. The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making the project’s technologies available to the farmers who need them the most. ABOUT RIPE Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops to ensure everyone has enough food to lead a healthy, productive life. This international research project is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development. RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with The Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Lancaster University, Louisiana State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Essex, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.


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  • FFAR Announces Six SMART Broiler Winners, in Partnership with McDonald’s

    Prize winners are developing tools to enhance broiler chicken welfare WASHINGTON (March 16, 2020) – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the six SMART Broiler Phase I winners today, a program developed in partnership with McDonald’s. SMART Broiler is a research initiative that is awarding more than $4 million in grants and technical support to develop automated monitoring tools that precisely assess broiler chicken welfare. The Phase I winners collectively received $2,092,439 in funding from FFAR and McDonald’s, with the potential to receive additional funding in Phase II. Current methods for assessing broiler chicken welfare on-farm rely on human observation and subjective scoring. SMART Broiler is developing automated Sensors, Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technologies (SMART) to objectively and comprehensively assess broiler welfare worldwide. These tools have the potential to enhance welfare for 9 billion birds annually in the US and improve efficiency for producers. “FFAR is impressed by the caliber of the more than 40 SMART Broiler proposals we received from 11 countries, which underscores the global importance of this issue,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Producers and consumers alike are eager to address animal welfare concerns. This initiative seeks to remedy these concerns by developing technologies that provide consistent, timely and accurate welfare assessments on farms around the world.” This initiative is divided into two phases. Phase I provides funds for early development and testing of technologies. Phase II refines and validates the most promising technologies from Phase I. FFAR anticipates granting additional awards for Phase II, which will likely be announced in late 2021. The six SMART Broiler Phase I winners are: Marian Dawkins with the University of Oxford, in partnership with Munters and Tyson Foods, is receiving $232,063 to test the ability of a novel camera/computer system called OpticFlock to monitor broiler chicken welfare. Cameras inside chicken houses monitor bird behavior and deliver a ‘verdict’ every 15 minutes to alert producers to early signs of broiler welfare issues, like foot pad lesions and lameness. Munters will help develop the technology so it can be commercialized as a standalone unit and as part of existing environmental monitoring technologies. By combining other environmental data factors, researchers intend to improve the quality of life for farmers and birds. Niamh O’Connell with Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with Moy Park, is receiving $310,738 to develop a vision-based system that leverages existing human crowd surveillance algorithms and applies them to the tracking and behavior analysis of broiler chickens. This will enable researchers to monitor large numbers of birds and track individual activity patterns, including welfare indicators such as gait score and feather cleanliness, in addition to natural behavior. Ingrid de Jong with Wageningen University & Research, and collaborators at Utrecht University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Virginia Tech, is receiving $500,000, with additional support provided by Plukon Food Group, CLK GmbH and Utrecht University for a total $610,000 award, to use an affordable camera-based system and artificial intelligence that automatically records broiler chicken behavior on-farm. The 2D and 3D cameras will continuously monitor broilers’ ability to walk, interact with each other and the environment, and other natural behaviors such as running, playing, foraging and dustbathing. Lasse Lorenzen with Scio+, Big Dutchman AG and SKOV A/S, with collaborators at KU Leuven, Purdue University and Aarhus University, is receiving $499,649, with additional support provided by Scio+ for a total $1,000,038 award. Scio+ et. al. is using camera technology and advanced image analysis to continuously monitor commercial broiler flocks, map welfare assessments and estimate walking ability. Hao Gan with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, in partnership with Mississippi State University and USDA-ARS and BioRICS NV, is receiving $350,000, with additional support provided by the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Peco Foods for a total $513,214 award. Gan is using multi-angle and multi-range cameras to monitor commercial broilers at both individual and flock levels and measure their walking ability and level of activity. Tom Darbonne and Dr. Brandon Carroll with AudioT, are receiving $200,000, with additional support provided by Tyson Foods and Fieldale Farms for a total $505,555 award to develop audio-based monitoring tools created on bird vocalizations that alert farmers to broiler welfare and behavior. Bird vocalizations can provide insight into flock activity welfare status. This project builds on 10 years of research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Agricultural Technology Research Program and will result in a scalable, low-cost sensor and analytics package complimentary to video-based systems. “McDonald’s is proud to work with FFAR to fund innovative on-farm technologies to measure and improve broiler welfare,” said McDonald’s Corporation Vice President of Sustainability Keith Kenny. “These technologies have huge potential to improve the welfare of chickens in our supply chains all over the world. We believe the Phase I winners to be industry leading, and we are excited to see the evolution of this research.” To further support SMART Broiler, Amazon Web Services Inc. and Accenture are providing cloud services and technical consulting support to the Phase I awardees in preparation for scale-up and commercialization. USPOULTRY has also awarded $100,000 in sponsorship to SMART Broiler, demonstrating the strong support from the US broiler industry for this initiative. ### 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. Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking


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  • Photosynthesis varies greatly across rice cultivars— natural diversity could boost yields

    Photosynthesis varies greatly across rice cultivars— natural diversity could boost yield CHAMPAIGN (MARCH 9, 2020)-- Rice is a direct source of calories for more people than any other crop and serves as the main staple for 560 million chronically hungry people in Asia. With over 120,000 varieties of cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) across the globe, there is a wealth of natural diversity to be mined by plant scientists to increase yields. A team from the University of Illinois and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) examined how 14 diverse varieties photosynthesize—the process by which all crops convert sunlight energy into sugars that ultimately become our food. Looking at a little-studied attribute of photosynthesis, they found small differences in photosynthetic efficiency under constant conditions, but a 117 percent difference in fluctuating light, suggesting a new trait for breeder selection. “Photosynthesis has traditionally been assessed under ‘constant conditions’ where plants are exposed to constant, high levels of light, but field conditions are never constant—especially considering the light that drives photosynthesis,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “We looked at 14 cultivars of rice that represent much of the crop’s diversity and asked the question: could there be variability in photosynthesis in fluctuating light that we might be able to capitalize on?” Published in New Phytologist, this work is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that enables crops to turn the sun’s energy into food more efficiently to increase global production sustainably with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID). “If you look within the canopy of leaves of any crop, you will see that the light is fluctuating by one or two orders of magnitude,” Long said. “A plant’s access to light is not only impacted by clouds intermittently obscuring the sun but much more commonly by its own leaves, or those of a neighboring plant, as the sun’s angle changes throughout the day. Calculations show that the photosynthetic inefficiency imposed by these leaves slowly adjusting to each fluctuation in light may cost crops 20 to 40 percent of their potential productivity.” The researchers compared results from constant and fluctuating light conditions and found no correlation, which supports findings from a 2019 study on cassava. In other words, varieties that do well in fluctuating light might not do well in constant light and vice-versa, suggesting that selection for these traits should be conducted independently. “This lack of correlation, which seems to be consistent across species, calls for us to flip how we think about studying photosynthesis,” said first-author Liana Acevedo-Siaca, a graduate student in the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES). “Moving forward, we need to incorporate more dynamic measurements into the way that we understand photosynthesis, especially in an agricultural setting, because realistically those plants are never in a steady-state.” The team also evaluated how these plants cope with fluctuations in light intensity across the five major rice groups, sometimes considered to be subspecies. While no group appeared better than the other overall, the team believes that variation could be found in future research. In this study, three photosynthetic parameters were of particular interest: the speed of induction (how quickly photosynthesis activates, or starts), speed of assimilation (how quickly the plant physically fixes carbon into sugar), and how efficiently these rice plants use water. After switching from low light to high light, one variety activated (or began photosynthesizing) 117 percent faster than the slowest. In fluctuating light conditions, another variety from the Indica group assimilated more than double that of the “worst” variety (also an Indica), which was found to be the most water-use efficient variety. “Surprisingly, after making a more detailed analysis of these accessions, along with a well-studied control called IR64 from the Philippines, we found that biochemistry is the biggest limitation to efficiency as leaves transition from shade to sun,” Long said. “Biochemistry is a different limitation altogether than that found in a parallel study of cassava, illustrating the need to fine-tune photosynthesis separately in different crop species—despite the fact that the photosynthetic process is generally well-conserved and consistent across most food crops.” According to Acevedo-Siaca, the next step is to identify how to breed for (or engineer) rice with faster induction responses. “At the end of the day, the goal would be to have plants that can respond more quickly to light fluctuations to enable them to be more productive,” said Acevedo-Siaca, a 2016 recipient of the U.S. Borlaug Fellowship in Global Food Security that supported her to conduct much of this research at IRRI. “I am interested in ways that we can improve this process while preserving some of the germplasm we have out there—there’s so much diversity with which we could work. I think it would be a shame if we didn’t examine all of our options more deeply.” Long also published a landmark study in Science that showed crops are not fully adapted to deal with the dynamic light conditions in fields—and helping them can increase crop productivity by as much as 20 percent. The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making the project’s technologies available to the farmers who need them the most. ABOUT RIPE Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops to ensure everyone has enough food to lead a healthy, productive life. This international research project is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID). RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with The Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Lancaster University, Louisiana State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Essex, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.


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  • FFAR Improves Animal Welfare by Enriching Swine Environment

    WASHINGTON (March 4, 2020)— The environment in which pigs are raised contributes to their health, welfare and productivity. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $75,000 grant to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to examine how environmental enrichment techniques can improve pig welfare. Nestle and Tyson Foods provided matching funding for a total $150,000 investment. Pigs are highly intelligent animals that thrive in environments where they can exhibit natural behaviors. The US livestock industry recognizes the need to improve animal welfare including developing better living conditions, which positively effects health and overall well-being. Group housing benefits pigs by improving social stimulation, but it also sometimes results in damaging behaviors like tail-biting and ear-chewing which occur, in part, due to boredom or frustration. Providing pigs with access to toys and devices, referred to as environmental enrichment, may reduce aggressive interactions and improve welfare. “There is increasing public attention on how food is produced, and animal welfare is becoming more important” said Dr. Jeremy Marchant-Forde, USDA-ARS Animal Scientist. “Retailers and consumers expect farm animals to have a certain quality of life and it is essential that livestock industries meet that expectation.” Providing enrichment can reduce stress levels, increase performance and productivity and decrease aggressive or abnormal behavior towards other pigs. Researchers are testing various environmental enrichment devices like chew toys and other devices and measuring their effects on pig welfare at key development stages in the pigs’ life cycle. Pig producers will use the results to develop environmental enrichment management strategies that benefit pig welfare and performance. FFAR, Nestle and Tyson Foods are funding one of the first studies in the United States that examines the impact of enrichment materials on US pigs. This research is assessing the pigs’ welfare by measuring behavior, health and growth rates. In Europe, minimum standards for pig production have already been successfully implemented, positively impacting pig health and welfare. This research examines how some European environmental enrichment practices can be applied to the US livestock industry. “Apps, trinkets and doodling help many of us pass time and process information - turns out pigs feel the same way. Understanding how environmental enrichment impacts pig welfare pushes the needle in the right direction to ensuring that animal welfare is protected, while maintaining productivity and profitability,” said Dr. Sally Rockey, FFAR’s Executive Director. “This research will provide swine producers with ways to provide enrichment that they can then easily implement on their farms with minimal cost and effort.” ### 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


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  • FFAR and AAVMC Seek Nominations for 2020 Vet Fellowship

    WASHINGTON D.C. (February 26, 2020) – Veterinarians trained in medicine, animal science and public health can solve critical global livestock production challenges; however, few opportunities exist for students to pursue this research. For the second year, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) seek nominations for the Veterinary Student Research Fellowships . This fellowship, also known as the FFAR Vet Fellows program, is a unique opportunity for veterinary students to pursue research related to animal health, global food security and sustainable agriculture. Available funding opportunities for veterinary scientists focus on biomedical research, which leaves new challenges in animal agriculture unaddressed. Shifts in food animal production practices, climate, rural community populations and consumer preferences create challenges for livestock producers at home and abroad. Research is critical to understanding these challenges and helping producers manage them. FFAR established the Vet Fellows program to encourage veterinary scientists to improve animal health and welfare, explore the complexities of animal production and enhance human health. “Veterinarians with expertise in animal science and public health are vital to addressing challenges livestock producers currently face and transforming sustainable livestock production in the future,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “The Vet Fellows program is one of the only programs that allows veterinary students to tackle cutting-edge research at the intersection of global food security and sustainable animal production. The FFAR Vet Fellows program, and the investment from AAVMC, is essential to developing the scientific workforce we need today and well into the future.” The three-month summer fellowship stipend is awarded to a maximum of 10 students annually to conduct research at the intersection of global food security and sustainable animal production with a mentor. The program is open to students currently enrolled in a DVM or VMD degree program, including those in combined degree programs. The fellowship culminates with student presentations at the annual National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in early August. The deadline to submit nominations is May 6, 2020. Only one student per institution is eligible for nomination. Specific information about nominations, eligibility and the application process can be found on the FFAR Vet Fellows website. “The world faces profound challenges in food production and food security, and we’re very excited to work with FFAR in helping to address these problems,” said AAVMC CEO Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe. “The research experiences provided for our students through this program are creating important scientific knowledge, but moreover, they are helping these emerging scientists understand the need and the value of pursuing careers in this area.” ### 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   ABOUT THE AAVMC The member institutions of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) promote and protect the health and wellbeing of people, animals and the environment by advancing the profession of veterinary medicine and preparing new generations of veterinarians to meet the evolving needs of a changing world. Founded in 1966, the AAVMC member institutions include 53 Council on Education (COE) accredited veterinary medical colleges and schools in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand and 23 provisional and collaborating members, departments of veterinary science and departments of comparative medicine in the U.S.


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  • Boost Soybean Yields by Adapting Photosynthesis to Fleeting Shadows, According to Model

    WASHINGTON (February 24, 2020) -- Komorebi is a Japanese word that describes how light filters through leaves—creating shifting, dappled “sunflecks” that illustrate plants’ ever-changing light environment. Crops harness light energy to fix carbon dioxide into food via photosynthesis. In a special issue of Plant Journal, a team from the University of Illinois reports a new mathematical computer model that is used to understand how much yield is lost as soybean crops grapple with minute-by-minute light fluctuations on cloudy and sunny days. “Soybean is the fourth most important crop in terms of overall production, but it is the top source of vegetable protein globally,” said Yu Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois, who led this work for Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE). “We found that soybean plants may lose as much as 13 percent of their productivity because they cannot adjust quickly enough to the changes in light intensity that are standard in any crop field. It may not sound like much, but in terms of the global yield—this is massive.” RIPE is an international research project that aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops needed to ensure everyone has enough food to lead a healthy, productive life. RIPE is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID). Past models have only examined hour-by-hour changes in light intensity. For this study, the team created a dynamic computational ray-tracing model that was able to predict light levels to the millimeter across every leaf for every minute of the day in a flowering soybean crop. The model also takes into account two critical factors: photoprotection and Rubisco activase. Photoprotection protects plants from sun damage. Triggered by high light levels, this process dissipates excess light energy safely as heat. But, when light levels drop, it can take minutes to hours for photoprotection to relax, or stop—costing the plant potential yield. The team evaluated 41 varieties of soybean to find out the fastest, slowest, and average rate from induction to the relaxation of photoprotection. Less than 30 minutes is considered “short-term,” and anything longer is “long-term” photoprotection. Using this new model, the team simulated a sunny and cloudy day in Champaign, Illinois. On the sunny day, long-term photoprotection was the most significant limitation of photosynthesis. On the cloudy day, photosynthesis was the most limited by short-term photoprotection and Rubisco activase, which is a helper enzyme—triggered by light—that turns on Rubisco to fix carbon into sugar. The RIPE project has already begun to address photoprotection limitations in soybean and other crops, including cassava, cowpea, and rice. In 2016, the team published a study in Science where they increased the levels of three proteins involved in photoprotection to boost the productivity of a model crop by 14-20 percent. In addition, the RIPE team from the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University is seeking better forms of Rubisco activase in soybean and cowpea. The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making these technologies available to the farmers who need them the most. “Models like these are critical to uncovering barriers—and solutions—to attain this crop’s full potential,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “We’ve already begun to address these bottlenecks and seen significant gains, but this study shows us that there is still room for improvement.” ### About RIPE Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aims to improve photosynthesis to equip farmers worldwide with higher-yielding crops to ensure everyone has enough food to lead a healthy, productive life. This international research project is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development. RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with The Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Lancaster University, Louisiana State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Essex, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.


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  • Mobilizing Farmers, Ranchers and Scientists as Window of Opportunity Narrows on Climate Change

    FFAR and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance announce Agriculture-Climate Partnership Washington, D.C. (February 6, 2020) – Farmers, ranchers and scientists are at the center of an unprecedented effort announced today to develop and deploy climate-smart solutions on a global scale. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) are establishing an Agriculture-Climate Partnership to unlock the climate-solving potential in farmlands. While agriculture contributes 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, it also presents an effective solution that can eliminate agriculture’s emissions and offset those of other sectors. Through climate smart agriculture practices, farmers and ranchers can optimize for growing, improve resiliency, minimize fertilizers and other inputs, improve water use and quality, and improve soil, all while storing carbon for future generations. “The challenge is enormous, but so are the stakes. Climate change is threatening farmers and ranchers’ livelihoods and the global food supply,” said Dr. Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “While there is much research and data on the climate-agriculture intersection, these efforts are fragmented, which slows progress. This partnership will foster collaboration between farmers, ranchers, scientists and others from across the food and agriculture sectors to address greenhouse gas emissions in a coordinated way, as a united front.” This partnership envisions a world where every farmer and rancher is employing at least one climate-smart solution on every acre of farmland. The goal is for agriculture to be net negative for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. FFAR is bringing the best scientific minds in food and agriculture together to develop and test actionable solutions customized by geography, farm type, crops, livestock and climate. USFRA is then mobilizing its vast network of farmers and ranchers to co-create and deploy climate-smart solutions. The coordination starts in the U.S. and will move internationally, as the World Farmers Organisation (WFO) expands efforts on a global scale. “No two farms are alike which means the path to climate-smart farming may look a little, or a lot, different from farm to farm,” said Erin Fitzgerald, CEO, USFRA. “The challenge is accelerating the activation of this potential in soils and simultaneously developing tools and technology that can reduce new emissions while adapting to the rapidly shifting weather patterns that farmers and ranchers are facing year over year. And all of this to be economically and environmentally sustainable.” FFAR and USFRA have already invested $50 million in projects advancing research efforts to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture and are actively seeking matching funds from outside partners to accelerate and expand the program. The full scope of the anticipated effort is estimated at $200 million. While the full scope of the types of climate-smart practices are part of this partnership, examples include cover crops, no-till and conservation till, variable rate technology, rotational grazing, manure fractionation, split nitrogen application, among others. The first five years of this partnership is crucial, for both the sustainability of farms and the potential to build the framework and multiply the reach. Over time, the partnership will lead to the creation of a Climate Smart Activation Platform, providing practical, environmentally and economically sustainable solutions that farmers can utilize to refine and incorporate their climate-smart practices and technology, build resiliency and contribute to agriculture being net negative for greenhouse gas emissions. ### ABOUT FFAR 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. ABOUT USFRA U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) represents farmer and rancher-led organizations, and food and agricultural partners, with a common vision to further our global sustainable food systems. We believe farmers uniquely contribute to nourishing our planet, people, and natural resources. Our focus is creating a proactive collaboration between the best minds in food, agriculture, science, and technology to co-create solutions that will result in environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Learn more at www.usfarmersandranchers.org. ABOUT WFO The World Farmers Organisation, is an International Organisation of Farmers for Farmers, which aims to bring together all the national producer and farm cooperative organisations with the objective of developing policies which favor and support farmers' causes in developed and developing countries around the world.


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  • USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation Sponsors $200,000 for FFAR-Funded Research that Benefits the Poultry Industry

    Tucker, Ga., Jan. 29, 2020 – USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation are announcing $200,000 in sponsorship funding for two poultry research projects to benefit the U.S. poultry industry. The sponsorship is in partnership with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and will leverage research dollars for two projects that improve poultry welfare and efficiency. The funds are being matched by FFAR for a total $400,000 investment. The first research project, the SMART Broiler Research Initiative, is a collaboration research program supported by FFAR and McDonald’s that is developing automated broiler welfare monitoring technologies for commercial poultry farms. These technologies may also be applicable to the turkey industry. Existing methods for assessing animal welfare rely on human observation and subjective scoring. This initiative is identifying automated solutions to provide objective and comprehensive information about poultry welfare across the supply chain. The second research project, the Egg-Tech Prize, is a FFAR and Open Philanthropy initiative that is developing new technologies for accurate, high-speed and early stage in-ovo sex determination of layer chicks. Only female chicks are used for producing layer hens; male chicks do not lay eggs and are unsuitable for consumption. The Egg-Tech Prize incentivizes companies and individuals to develop a technology that accurately determines the sex of an egg before it hatches and allow hatcheries to divert male eggs to the food or animal-feed supply chains or use them in vaccine production. This would solve the issue of male chick culling—which presents animal welfare concerns, hinders farmer profitability and wastes resources-- and improve the sustainability of egg production worldwide. The six winners of Egg-Tech Prize Phase I were announced by FFAR last November. The winner of the $4.5 million Egg-Tech Prize will be announced in 2021. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to actively collaborate with FFAR as a platinum sponsor for both of these projects. We anticipate that these innovative, unique and cutting-edge technologies will allow the poultry industry to further enhance producer viability, ensure animal wellbeing and meet the changing needs of the industry,” said John Prestage, senior vice president, Prestage Farms and USPOULTRY chairman. “The Egg-Tech Prize and SMART Broiler are both cutting-edge research initiatives that seek to address global animal welfare concerns and revolutionize on-farm practices while enhancing production,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “We are thrilled to partner with the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association to fund research that benefits the U.S. poultry industry and U.S. consumers.” ### U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) is the all-feather organization representing the complete spectrum of today’s poultry industry, whose mission is to progressively serve member companies through research, education, communication and technical assistance. Founded in 1947, USPOULTRY is based in Tucker, Georgia. Contact: Gwen Venable, 678.514.1971, gvenable@uspoultry.org 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.


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  • Zachary B. Lippman Awarded the 2020 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

    WASHINGTON (January 22, 2020) – The National Academy of Sciences awarded the 2020 Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences to Dr. Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for his work to accelerate crop improvement. The NAS Prize, endowed by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is awarded annually to a scientist who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. The Prize is presented with a medal and $100,000 purse. Lippman’s work is aimed at the challenges of increasing crop productivity in the face of declining agricultural land and population growth. His research has shown that yields can be increased, and new crops can be created and adapted to new environments using the genes that determine when, where and how many flowers are produced on a plant. As the Jacob Goldfield Professor of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he studies how groups of stem cells become flowers, which ultimately give rise to fruits and seed, making them vitally important to food production. In the last several years, Lippman discovered timing mechanisms that control how many flowers a plant will produce, which meant that he could develop approaches to control how much fruit and how many seeds a plant would make. When combined with known hormones that control flowering and the powerful tools of gene editing, this new knowledge allowed Lippman and his team to embark on a new frontier of quantitatively fine-tuning traits in ways that was never before possible, revealing principles that could be applied to all crops to improve productivity. Moreover, this newfound control of plant gene function and activity allowed Lippman and his team to accelerate the time-consuming domestication process of a wild plant, the groundcherry, opening the door to the taming of many new and under-utilized crops to help meet global food demands. “I am honored to receive this recognition from the National Academy and my colleagues. It is a reflection of how fundamental discoveries in plant biology from my research program, enabled by government support, can result in impactful improvements to agriculture for the U.S. and beyond,” said Lippman. The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist, defined as up to 20 years since completion of PhD, at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. “Dr. Lippman’s impressive work with gene editing and accelerated domestication is exactly the kind of innovation the food and agriculture industry needs to be resilient in the face of climate change,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to help recognize the great strides Dr. Lippman has taken.” ### 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


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  • FFAR Accepts Pre-Proposals for Seeding Solutions 2020

    WASHINGTON (January 22, 2020)—FFAR is now accepting pre-proposal applications for the 2020 Seeding Solutions Grant Program, the Foundation’s flagship competitive program that funds research solutions in FFAR’s six Challenge Areas in collaboration with unique partners. Every year, FFAR funds at least one proposal in each Challenge Area, awarding grantees up to $1 million. “Now in its fourth consecutive year, Seeding Solutions provides food and agriculture researchers the opportunity to explore creative solutions to some of the industry’s most pressing challenges,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “We promote technological innovations in this program and consistently fund the best research that explore remarkable agricultural issues across the range of our Challenge areas.” Seeding Solutions grantees are required to provide matching funds from non-federal sources and identify an innovation that addresses an intractable problem in food and agriculture within one of FFAR’s Challenge areas. Successful applications will also serve the public by making data open and accessible. The deadline to submit pre-proposals is February 26, 2020. Full application criteria and eligibility requirements are available on the Seeding Solutions Grant Program website. FFAR awarded $9.7 million in 2018 Seeding Solutions Grant Program funding, which was matched by outside funders for a total investment of nearly $20 million in agricultural innovation. The 2019 Seeding Solutions grantees will be announced this spring. ### 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


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