• FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops

    WASHINGTON (September 16, 2020) – Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience. This request for proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications starting today. “We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.” Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures. This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut. Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.  Information about this funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements, are available on the Climate Resilience RFA webpage. ### The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization 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 Grant Evaluates Gene Editing to Improve Heat Resistance in Cattle

    WASHINGTON (August 31, 2020) – More than half of the global cattle population is raised in sub-tropical or tropical environments. In these tropical environments, cattle often undergo heat stress, which decreases milk and meat production. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $748,545 Seeding Solutions research grant to Acceligen, a subsidiary of Recombinetics Inc., to examine how genetic alterations can improve heat resistance in cattle. Semex and Acceligen provided matching research funds for a total investment of $1,497,641. Cattle, if not adapted to heat, can exhibit an extreme physical reaction to heat stress, including reductions in feed intake and milk production, slowed growth, and increased disease susceptibility. These reactions decrease sustainable production and can result in severe illness or even death. “As global temperatures continue to increase due to climate change, cattle experience heat stress more frequently and more intensely – even in traditionally temperate, non-tropical environments,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Adapting cattle to withstand the effects of heat stress is critical to ensuring global food security.” To date, most research to reduce heat stress in cattle has focused on improving housing conditions, using feed additives and other non-genetic interventions. This grant is exploring genetic approaches to reduce heat stress. Acceligen researchers and collaborators at the University of Florida are focusing on cattle that carry mutations, or gene variants, in the prolactin receptor gene (PRLR) that result in a slick coat or short hair. The shorter hair improves heat tolerance; however, this research further examines the impact of the mutations on molecular, genetic and physiological parameters. One aspect of this project involves employing sophisticated monitoring techniques to detect molecular differences emanating from the liver to identify key molecules for controlling metabolism prior to the onset of heat stress. This information could result in development of more effective feed additives to ease seasonal heat stress caused by climate change in temperate zones. Additionally, scientists at Acceligen and Semex are using gene editing to introduce the mutations into both elite beef and dairy cattle to study an animal’s ability to adapt to extreme heat and humidity. After the edits are introduced, the productivity and well-being of the precision-bred cattle will be compared to those that do not carry any PRLR edits. By introducing these naturally occurring gene variations into non-adapted breeds, researchers can better understand how to control heat stress and ultimately improve animal health, well-being, fertility and economic return for producers. “Tropically adapted cattle from the Caribbean Basin have provided us a naturally occurring trait that we can leverage to reduce the carbon footprint of cattle globally,” said Tad Sonstegard, the principal investigator of this research. “We believe this is an exceptional opportunity to contribute innovative solutions to food security challenges related to animal protein.” ### 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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  • FFAR-Funded Report Outlines National Strategy to Reduce Food Waste

    WASHINGTON (August 21, 2020) – In the United States, an average of 30 percent of food is thrown away. This is a financial and environmental problem in even the best times, but today the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens food insecurity for thousands of Americans. Many are facing smaller or lost paychecks while disease outbreaks at food processing plants reduce food supply and increase costs. While there are many factors leading to food waste, efforts to reduce it must involve changes across the entire food system, not just individual habits. A Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research- (FFAR) funded consensus study report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “A National Strategy to Reduce Food Waste at the Consumer Level,” released today, examines the cultural and societal drivers of food waste among consumers. The report provides a multilevel strategy for how the public and private sectors can provide the motivation, opportunities and abilities to help consumers reduce food waste. “Saving food doesn’t just mean saving money; it means fewer trips to the grocery store and less burden on food production and distribution,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “At a time when COVID-19 presents a triple threat to our health, our finances and our food supply chain, reducing food waste is vital to getting through this pandemic. This report is a roadmap for institutional changes that enable consumers to make smart food choices at grocery stores, in restaurants and in their kitchens.” In the wide-ranging report, the National Academies assembled experts in food waste, psychology and marketing, sociology, public health, nutrition, behavioral economics, food systems, urban planning, intervention design and implementation science to examine research and investigate influences on consumers’ food choices. The report offers suggestions to stakeholders including governments, the food industry, commercial entities, nonprofit and volunteer organizations, educational institutions and foundations. The report finds that food waste behaviors are shaped on conscious and nonconscious levels by a variety of drivers including personal circumstances, social feedback, marketing, the media and government policies. The report offers three pathways that institutions, such as industry associations, schools and government agencies, can take to reduce food waste at the consumer level. The first is changing the US food environment to discourage waste. Such initiatives may include public policies and financial incentives that encourage waste reduction and innovations in the food industry such as standardized “best by” date labeling. The second pathway is strengthening consumers’ motivation, opportunity and ability to reduce food waste through projects like national campaigns, influencer messaging and food literacy in schools. Finally, the report recommends supporting research and technology to accurately measure food waste, help consumers with food waste reduction strategies and track the effectiveness of intervention strategies. The report’s findings and recommendations are freely available and the National Academies is distributing results to key stakeholders across the public and private sectors and academia. FFAR provided the National Academies a $336,000 to conduct this report. FFAR’s investment was matched by a contribution from the Walmart Foundation for a total award of $673,000. ### 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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  • Scientists further cowpea research—boosting canopy CO2 assimilation, water-use efficiency

    CHAMPAIGN (August 18, 2020) — Crops grow dense canopies that consist of several layers of leaves—the upper layers with younger sun leaves and the lower layers with older shaded leaves that may have difficulty intercepting sunlight trickling down from the top layers. In a recent study published in Food and Energy Security, scientists from Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) aimed to understand how much variation exists within diverse cowpea lines in light absorption and carbon dioxide (CO2) assimilation throughout the canopy. This information can ultimately be used to design more efficient canopies—with greater CO2 assimilation and water-use efficiency—to increase yields. RIPE, which is led by the University of Illinois, is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert light energy to produce biomass and yields. RIPE is supported 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). One of the target crops of the RIPE project is cowpea. Cowpeas, commonly known as black-eyed peas in the U.S., are one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world, responsible for feeding more than 200 million people per day. “They are a staple crop in Africa, providing a source of protein for humans and livestock, and restoration of soil nutrition through nitrogen fixation,” said Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). The RIPE team screened 50 cowpea genotypes from a multi-parent advanced generation inter-cross (MAGIC) population for canopy architecture traits, canopy photosynthesis, and water-use efficiency by using a canopy gas exchange chamber. This chamber was used to measure the rate by which plants would convert CO2 in the atmosphere into carbohydrates as energy for growth. “Since sub-Saharan Africa is the region where important yield gaps persist, it is crucial that we develop a high yielding crop that can be easily grown there,” said first author Anthony Digrado, a USDA-ARS postdoctoral researcher in Ainsworth’s lab based at Illinois. “That is to say that water-use efficiency should be taken into serious account when developing new varieties for sub-Saharan African countries that are challenged by access to water in several regions.” The team used Principal Component Analysis (PCA) models to first group the 50 MAGIC genotypes into five general canopy architectural types to study plant traits, including leaf area index, leaf greenness, and canopy height and width. This analysis gave researchers the ability to gather an overview of the traits, or combinations of traits, that could be modified to have the strongest impact on canopy photosynthesis to maximize growth. Canopy architecture contributed to 38.6 percent of the variance observed in canopy photosynthesis. Results showed that in canopies with lower biomass, the major limitation to canopy photosynthesis was leaf area; however, in higher biomass canopies, the major limiting factor was, instead, the light environment. Canopies with high biomass have greater canopy photosynthesis when leaves at the top of the canopy have lower chlorophyll content. Overall, canopy architecture significantly affected canopy photosynthetic efficiency and water-use efficiency, suggesting that optimizing canopy structures can contribute to yield enhancement in crops. “Water-use efficiency refers to the amount of CO2 assimilated by a crop canopy relative to the amount of water that is lost by the canopy,” said Digrado, who led this work at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). “The ideal for a crop is to be able to have a lot of carbon intake without losing too much water.” The MAGIC cowpea population that the team used matches this criteria for an ideal crop, especially one to be grown in the drought conditions of Africa. However, research on how canopy architecture affects canopy CO2 assimilation and water-use efficiency in cowpea continues to be scarce. “There is still a lot to do to improve cowpea yields and much more research is needed,” Digrado said. “But this work has established that variation exists that can be used to improve productivity and efficiency of an important food security crop.” 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. 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. Editor’s Notes: A one-minute video about this work as well as photos and captions are available online. The paper “Assessing Diversity in Canopy Architecture, Photosynthesis and Water-use Efficiency in the Cowpea MAGIC Population” published by the journal Food and Energy Security is available online (DOI: 10.1002/fes3.236) or by request.


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  • FFAR Announces New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Awardees

    WASHINGTON (August 12, 2020) – Today the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the eight recipients of the 2019 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research, an award granted to early career scientists supporting research in one of the Foundation’s six Challenge Areas. The recipients will receive a total of $1,744,803 over three years, with matching funds from each recipients’ respective institutions to double FFAR’s investment for a total of $3,494,132. The New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award provides early career scientists with funding to conduct audacious food and agriculture research. Investing in these scientists in the early years of their careers allows them to pursue innovative and transformational ideas uninhibited by the pressure of identifying their next grant. “Preparing for the next frontier of agricultural innovation starts with investing in today’s scientific workforce,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “We are thrilled to support emerging superstars in food and agriculture research as they develop cutting-edge strategies to revolutionize food production, processing and distribution.” The following individuals are the 2019 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award recipients: Dr. Jared Ali, The Pennsylvania State University Ali’s research is discovering mechanisms and chemical ecology-based management practices that control interactions linking cover crops, soil dynamics and beneficial organisms to increase crop resistance to pests and pathogens. Dr. Jessica Cooperstone, The Ohio State University Cooperstone’s research combines plant breeding/genetics, analytical chemistry, bioinformatics and nutrition to develop tomatoes that are more beneficial for human health. Dr. Paul Dyce, Auburn University Dyce’s research is improving the efficiency of cattle production by identifying molecular markers that indicate reproductive potential. The use of these markers can provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of unexplained infertility within the cow-calf sector leading to potential therapeutic options. Dr. Andres Espindola Camacho, Oklahoma State University Espindola Camacho's research uses cutting-edge, high-throughput sequencing to determine what affects plant health. Specially, Espindola Camacho is sequencing a plant’s microbiome, a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on a plant, to determine those organisms that positively or negatively impact the plant. Dr. Landon Marston, Virginia Tech University Marston’s research will create new knowledge and decision-making tools to help irrigators conserve scarce water resources while preserving their livelihood. These decision-support systems will aid farmers in formulating optimal multiyear cropping and water-allocation strategies under uncertain climatic and market conditions. Dr. Nathan Mueller, Colorado State University Mueller's research is investigating the reliance of irrigated crop production on snowmelt water resources globally. The project will heighten our understanding of snowmelt-dependent agriculture hotspots and how trends in water supplies and crop water demands influence water scarcity. Dr. Neha Potnis, Auburn University Traditional disease management strategies often fail to prevent recurring outbreaks. Potnis’s research is testing a two-pronged approach to transform disease management strategies and identify control approaches that are practical and profitable. Dr. Susan Whitehead, Virginia Tech Whitehead’s research is developing new ecologically based management practices for apples that can boost the content of health-promoting phytochemicals in fruit. If successful, these technologies could be applied to a variety of crops to improve the quality of food and boost the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables. ### 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 This press release was edited on August 20, 2020 to include the final 2019 New Innovator awardee, Susan Whitehead.


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  • Third breakthrough demonstrates photosynthetic hacks can boost yield, conserve water

    A team of scientists has boosted crop productivity by 27 percent by resolving two bottlenecks in photosynthesis—the process whereby plants fix carbon dioxide into the sugars that fuel crop growth. Chidi Afamefule (left) holds an unmodified control plant while Kenny Brown (center) holds a plant modified to resolve one bottleneck, and Patricia Lopez-Calcagno (right) holds a plant modified to resolve two bottlenecks. Photo credit: RIPE Project/Claire Benjamin COLCHESTER, England (August 10, 2020) — Plants are factories that manufacture yield from light and carbon dioxide—but parts of this complex process, called photosynthesis, are hindered by a lack of raw materials and machinery. To optimize production, scientists from the University of Essex have resolved two major photosynthetic bottlenecks to boost plant productivity by 27 percent in real-world field conditions, according to a new study published in Nature Plants. This is the third breakthrough for the research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE); however, this photosynthetic hack has also been shown to conserve water. “Like a factory line, plants are only as fast as their slowest machines,” said Patricia Lopez-Calcagno, a postdoctoral researcher at Essex, who led this work for the RIPE project. “We have identified some steps that are slower, and what we’re doing is enabling these plants to build more machines to speed up these slower steps in photosynthesis.” The RIPE project is an international effort led by the University of Illinois to develop more productive crops by improving photosynthesis. RIPE is supported 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). A factory’s productivity decreases when supplies, transportation channels, and reliable machinery are limited. To find out what limits photosynthesis, researchers have modeled each of the 170 steps of this process to identify how plants could manufacture sugars more efficiently. In this study, the team increased crop growth by 27 percent by resolving two constraints: one in the first part of photosynthesis where plants transform light energy into chemical energy and one in the second part where carbon dioxide is fixed into sugars. Inside two photosystems, sunlight is captured and turned into chemical energy that can be used for other processes in photosynthesis. A transport protein called plastocyanin moves electrons into the photosystem to fuel this process. But plastocyanin has a high affinity for its acceptor protein in the photosystem so it hangs around, failing to shuttle electrons back and forth efficiently. The team addressed this first bottleneck by helping plastocyanin share the load with the addition of cytochrome c6—a more efficient transport protein that has a similar function in algae. Plastocyanin requires copper and cytochrome requires iron to function. Depending on the availability of these nutrients, algae can choose between these two transport proteins. At the same time, the team has improved a photosynthetic bottleneck in the Calvin-Benson Cycle—wherein carbon dioxide is fixed into sugars—by bulking up the amount of a key enzyme called SBPase, borrowing the additional cellular machinery from another plant species and cyanobacteria. By adding “cellular forklifts” to shuttle electrons into the photosystems and “cellular machinery” for the Calvin Cycle, the team also improved the crop’s water-use efficiency, or the ratio of biomass produced to water lost by the plant. “In our field trials, we discovered that these plants are using less water to make more biomass,” said principal investigator Christine Raines, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Essex where she also serves as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research.  “The mechanism responsible for this additional improvement is not yet clear, but we are continuing to explore this to help us understand why and how this works.” These two improvements, when combined, have been shown to increase crop productivity by 52 percent in the greenhouse. More importantly, this study showed up to a 27 percent increase in crop growth in field trials, which is the true test of any crop improvement—demonstrating that these photosynthetic hacks can boost crop production in real-world growing conditions. “This study provides the exciting opportunity to potentially combine three confirmed and independent methods of achieving 20 percent increases in crop productivity,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. “Our modeling suggests that stacking this breakthrough with two previous discoveries from the RIPE project could result in additive yield gains totaling as much as 50 to 60 percent in food crops.” RIPE’s first discovery, published in Science, helped plants adapt to changing light conditions to increase yields by as much as 20 percent. The project’s second breakthrough, also published in Science, created a shortcut in how plants deal with a glitch in photosynthesis to boost productivity by 20 to 40 percent. Next, the team plans to translate these discoveries from tobacco—a model crop used in this study as a test-bed for genetic improvements because it is easy to engineer, grow, and test—to staple food crops such as cassava, cowpea, maize, soybean and rice that are needed to feed our growing population this century. 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) is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food to sustainably increase worldwide food production with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. 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 the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Editor’s Notes: The paper “Stimulating photosynthetic processes increases productivity and water-use efficiency in the field” is published by the journal Nature Plants (DOI: 10.1038/s41477-020-0740-1); it is available by request. Co-authors of this publication include Kenny L. Brown, Andrew J. Simkin, Stuart J. Fisk, Silvere Vialet-Chabrand and Tracy Lawson.


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  • FFAR Grant Addresses Wheat Crop Disease Using Gene Editing

    Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova, Rausser College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley BERKELEY (August 5, 2020) – Newly emerged pathogens can lead to disease epidemics that create severe crop losses and threaten food security. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $900,000 Seeding Solutions grant to the University of California, Berkeley to address devastating disease epidemics through advanced gene editing technologies. 2Blades Foundation and Innovative Genomics Institute provided matching funds, for a total $3.2 million investment. Currently, breeding plants for disease resistance is the most effective and ecologically sustainable way to control plant epidemics. To achieve this, scientists use traditional crop breeding to introduce, or stack, multiple resistance genes – though this is a time-consuming approach. Additionally, the effectiveness of stacking resistance genes in economically vital crops like wheat are often short lived as the pathogens are constantly evolving to overcome resistance. “A virulent wheat pathogen would not only harm farmers, but can also result in food supply shortages, threatening food security,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “Thus, scientists need a new approach to breeding wheat crops with greater disease resistance.” Pathogens have special proteins that can cause plant disease. University of California, Berkeley researchers, led by Dr. Brian Staskawicz and Dr. Ksenia Krasileva, are using gene editing technology to stack resistance genes in the wheat crops that specifically recognize the pathogen’s proteins. By recognizing the pathogen’s proteins, the plant can fight the pathogen, even if the pathogen mutates. In addition to using already cloned genes, this grant is also addressing the ability of combined computational and synthetic biology approaches to develop novel resistance genes. Outputs of the program will be advanced through The 2Blades Foundation’s wheat rusts consortium to ensure delivery of rust-resistant wheat. “We are excited to employ gene editing in wheat, as it will allow us to reduce farm inputs and produce more sustainable wheat yields — more important than ever in the face of climate change,” said Staskawicz. Ultimately, this project is accelerating the development of improved resistant wheat varieties and getting them to farmers. The resulting wheat varieties will have greater yields and require fewer chemical inputs. Improving the quality of wheat ensures the crop is robust enough to grow worldwide.   ### 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 Announce 2020 Vet Fellows

    WASHINGTON (August 04, 2020) – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the twelve recipients of the 2020 Veterinary Student Research Fellowships (FFAR Vet Fellows) in partnership with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. This fellowship creates opportunities for veterinary students to pursue research on global food security and sustainable animal production. “Veterinary science is essential for understanding and mitigating a host of serious global health challenges, including the coronavirus – the latest example of pathogens that move between humans and animals,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Pests and diseases are constantly changing to survive in new environments. We must urgently equip the next generation of veterinary scientists to ensure the veterinary community has the expertise to address future pandemic pests and diseases.” Up to 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning a pathogen can spread from animals to humans. Both coronaviruses and influenza viruses can be zoonotic and can be found in agricultural animals such as poultry and pigs. Research on food-animal production and veterinary medicine can reduce the threat of zoonotic pathogens. Yet, veterinary students have limited opportunities to research zoonotic diseases in agriculture. Through the Vet Fellows program, FFAR is investing in future veterinarians and creating opportunities to provide them relevant expertise. Due to the urgent nature of this research, the 2020 Vet Fellows were not required to provide matching funds, allowing them to focus exclusively on their research. The FFAR Vet Fellows program supports student research on agricultural productivity, public health and environmental sustainability. FFAR and AAVMC adjusted the parameters of the fellowship this year to fund additional fellowships that focus on zoonotic or pandemic research. The three-month fellowship culminates with student presentations at the annual National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in early August. The 2020 FFAR Vet Fellows include: Alec Lucas, Mississippi State University As policies and regulations on antimicrobial use become more restrictive, the cattle industry – including producers, veterinarians and industry representatives – must together prepare to implement these policies and regulations. Lucas is using stock and flow value-chain models to understand how cattle markets would adapt to various antimicrobial-use policies. Allie Andrews, University of Tennessee Bovine anaplasmosis, an infectious blood disease in cattle usually spread by ticks, causes severe anemia and significant economic losses for producers; however, no recent prevalence estimates exist, making it impossible to account for exact production losses. Andrews is tracking the prevalence of bovine anaplasmosis in Tennessee beef cattle herds, which helps producers understand the economic impacts of the disease and adopt better preventative and control measures. Cassandra Barber, Mississippi State University Not only are zoonotic diseases a significant threat to humans, but in some cases these microorganisms can also be resistant to antimicrobials. Alternative treatments for antimicrobial-resistant zoonotic microorganisms are needed to protect human and animal health. Increased expression of naturally occurring antimicrobial proteins (AMP) by an animal’s cells could be a novel strategy for treating some infections. Barber is using bovine coronavirus and Pasteurella bacteria as models for viral and bacterial zoonotic pathogens to investigate whether AMPs may be effective in combating infectious agents in humans and animals. Dayna Kinkade, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Researchers hypothesize that the influenza A viruses (IAV), also known as the flu, can be transmitted between species, including between humans and pigs. Kinkade is examining the transmission of influenza A subtype H3N2 virus, a strain of the flu, between humans and pigs from 2014 to 2019. These genetic-analysis tools can determine which strains of the virus are spreading between species and if this transmission is occurring in any specific pattern, information necessary to better monitor the movement and evolution of the influenza virus. Eddy Cruz, University of Wisconsin The intestinal pathogen Salmonella enterica causes disease in many animal species, including humans, but it is unclear how the gut environment primes Salmonella for transmission. The gut microbiota of mammals produces a diversity of sulfur-containing metabolites, some of which enhance Salmonella infection, survival or severity. Cruz is assessing the effect of these sulfur metabolites on Salmonella gut colonization and environmental survival to provide key targets for anti-Salmonella strategies based on sulfur metabolites. Faazal Rehman, University of Pennsylvania Swine health and illness significantly impacts productivity and economic losses worldwide. Rehman is identifying a swine health signature in Pennsylvania swine farms by studying the gut, lung and skin microbiomes, as well as characterizing white blood cell populations of healthy and sick animals. Identifying a swine health signature will improve global animal health and productivity. Kenzie Schwartz, University of Georgia The east Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) carries several pathogens that are harmful to cattle. Schwartz is determining the diversity and abundance of the east Asian longhorned tick and other ticks in urban and forested parks in Athens, Georgia. Schwartz is also examining whether species abundance or diversity are related to any spatial associations or habitat connectivity. Lauren Herd, Kansas State University Decades of use in the cattle industry may have impacted the efficacy of the only FDA-approved drug, chlortetracycline (CTC), to control bovine anaplasmosis, Anaplasma marginale. Bovine anaplasmosis is an infectious blood disease in cattle that causes severe anemia and economic losses for producers. To evaluate the efficacy of CTC, Herd is infecting cattle with a strain of A. marginale, treating some cattle with CTC, and monitoring for signs of the disease to better understand antimicrobial resistance. Maia Laabs, University of California, Davis Toxoplasma gondii is widespread parasite that causes reproductive challenges in small ruminants. Laabs is investigating the prevalence of T. gondii in US goat herds and identifying risk factors associated with T. gondii-positive herds. Her research is informing management strategies and future preventive measures. Matt Boulanger, University of Pennsylvania Lameness is a major detriment to sow productivity and welfare; however, lameness scoring can be subjective and needs to be done manually. Boulanger’s research is using infrared cameras to automatically evaluate lameness in swine. He is using a novel algorithm, as well as machine learning, to process the images and comparing the predictions to standard visual assessment tools. Sarah Botkin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Rotavirus is a small intestinal disease that is infecting piglets in increasing frequency in commercial swine breeding herds. Conventional control methods of vaccination and high-pressure washing with disinfectants have been ineffective. Botkin is evaluating the effectiveness of conventional and alternative cleaning methods to reduce the incidence of diarrhea in neonatal pigs Xinyi Xu, University of Georgia As environmental change brings wild and domestic animals in increasingly close contact, disease transmission between wildlife and livestock is an emerging threat to food production. Xiu is studying critical factors related to how the virus interacts with the host to predict viral spillover between wildlife and livestock. ### 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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  • Ben Noble Joins FFAR Board of Directors

    WASHINGTON (August 3, 2020) – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is excited to announce that Ben Noble, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Riceland Foods, Inc., is joining the board of directors. “Ben is a champion for Arkansas farmers and the rice industry,” said President of Mississippi State University and FFAR Chairman of the Board Dr. Mark Keenum. “His knowledge of government, industry and public relations will be a welcome addition to the FFAR Board of Directors as we pioneer technologies and practices that support human health, farmer’s livelihood and environmental sustainability.” Noble joined Riceland Foods, Inc. as vice president of marketing and strategy in September 2017 and added the role of vice president of sales in August 2018. He was appointed to his current position at Riceland Foods, Inc. in April 2020. Previously, he served as president of Noble Strategies, a Little Rock-based marketing and public affairs firm with agricultural-based clients including Tyson Foods, Monsanto, Con-Agra, Anheuser-Busch and others. He was a partner at Aarch Communications and a principal at Troutman Sanders LLP. Noble was also vice president for government affairs for USA Rice Federation and senior director of government relations for the National Cotton Council. He began his career as an agriculture policy aide to former Sens. Dale Bumpers (D-AR) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Noble is the founding Executive Director of the Arkansas Rice Federation, which includes the Arkansas Rice Council, the Arkansas Rice Farmers and the Arkansas Rice Millers. “I am delighted to welcome Ben to FFAR’s Board of Directors. Our board is a critical component of this organization and we strive to ensure that its members represent our diverse stakeholders. Ben’s participation on the board further ensures that we have strong representation for farmers and our corporate partners,” remarked FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. ### About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization 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 Funds Emergency Research to Address Coronavirus

    WASHINGTON (July 21, 2020) – The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is highlighting food system deficiencies. While the food system is successfully providing for Americans during this crisis, many are encountering empty grocery shelves. Simultaneously, producers are struggling to reach consumers due to concerns with processing, distribution and demand. To understand and address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is expanding existing grants to Feeding America and five Tipping Points Program awardees. The supplemental FFAR funding will quantitatively assess how food systems, and especially emergency food systems, operate and adapt in times of stress. FFAR is not requiring grantees to secure matching funds, allowing them to focus on the pandemic response. Earlier this year, FFAR awarded Feeding America a $1 million grant to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s Regional Produce Cooperatives, which direct a greater variety of produce to food banks at lower costs. Today, FFAR is providing $100,000 in supplemental funding to analyze data with the goal of increasing produce consumption and decreasing food insecurity. “We are grateful to FFAR for their support in utilizing our research to better understand the effects of the pandemic on both the local and national food system” said Tom Summerfelt, vice president of research at Feeding America. “This funding is helping Feeding America assess the food insecurity landscape and work with others to find solutions to hunger in their communities.” Feeding America is assessing how food banks use various supply chains to procure food for clients. The organization is also analyzing data to understand the use of food banks during the pandemic, predict how COVID-19 will impact food systems in the next two years and prepare for future food system shocks. “FFAR was established to fill research gaps and provide access to affordable, nutritious food. Our mission is especially crucial during this pandemic, when more Americans are in need of food assistance,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “We have a duty to study the effects that COVID-19 is having on our nation’s food systems and fortify them against future crises.” FFAR’s existing Tipping Points Grantees work with community organizations within five US cities to understand various aspects of the local food system and improve health and economic outcomes through quantitative modeling of the food system. Food system investments in urban communities often work on isolated factors to improve health, equity and economic development. However, food systems are complicated networks that intersect with the environment, housing, education, the economy and other factors. Understanding how these factors interact informs the best use of limited investments to improve health and economic outcomes in these communities. FFAR is providing a total of $482,642 in supplemental funding the five Tipping Point grantee to examine the trade-offs associated with policy and programming interventions in response to COVID-19. The FFAR supplemental funding is also spurring collaboration between Tipping Points grantees and Feeding America. The Tipping Points grantees are using Feeding America’s data to inform the Tipping Point models. Joy Casnovsky, Sustainable Food Center and Dr. Alexandra van den Berg, The University of Texas Health Science Center Austin, Texas FFAR Award Amount: $83,356 The FRESH Austin study is using supplemental funding to examine the impact of the pandemic on access to fresh, nutritious food in the Austin area. The research team is working with other Tipping Points grantees to simulate different food access scenarios in response to COVID-19 and evaluate the impact on food purchasing and consumption behaviors. The resulting model will inform local policy decisions to help optimize the food system in Austin in the post-COVID era. Dr. Beth Feingold and Dr. Xiaobo X. Romeiko, University at Albany Albany, New York FFAR Award Amount: $99,987 Dr. Feingold’s team is using the supplementary funding to study how COVID-19 is impacting food access in New York’s Capital Region, with specific attention on understanding how the fresh produce recovery and redistribution arm of the Capital Region food system is absorbing the shock. The team anticipates that their findings will reveal the benefits and tradeoffs associated with policy and program interventions in response to COVID-19. Dr. Darcy Freedman, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Cleveland, Ohio FFAR Award Amount: $100,000 Dr. Freedman is building on her Tipping Points grant developing participatory system dynamic models to inform food systems transformations and promote equity. Supplementary funding is extending this work to better understand how a common system shock like COVID-19 will produce differential impacts at the neighborhood level, given unique starting points. The team will model the effects of COVID-19 in neighborhoods with high, medium and low food security before March 2020. Their findings will be used to tailor food system solutions to diverse neighborhood contexts. Dr. Steven Gray, Michigan State University Flint, Michigan FFAR Award Amount: $99,230 Emergency food is a particularly important part of the food system in Flint. Dr. Gray is investigating how emergency food programs, including food banks, schools and Meals on Wheels, intersect with the retail sector. Flint’s emergency food program and the retail sector are both fragile due to the struggling local economy, the city does not have the tax-base to sustain retail stores and many residents rely on a supplemental food system that is not driven by supply-demand economics. The research team is assessing how residents are obtaining food during the pandemic to highlight potential barriers and examples of success, while understanding how it has changed due to COVID-19. Dr. Becca Jablonski, Colorado State University Denver, Colorado FFAR Award Amount: $100,000 Dr. Jablonski’s research team is evaluating how food is provided through emergency feeding programs, including SNAP, food banks and schools; and who uses these services; the costs of these services; the food provided; and its dietary quality. The research team is surveying low-income households with school-aged children to understand the availability of food across supply chains, the price of these goods and producer profitability. ### 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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