• FFAR and ORFR Award Montana State University Grant to Enhance Soil Health

    SANTA CRUZ and WASHINGTON (June 2, 2020) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a second year of funding to Dr. Jed Eberly at Montana State University based on the promise shown in his first year of organic lentil trials. Eberly and his team are incorporating lentils into organic cropping systems to enhance soil health and improve the economics of organic operations. The outcomes of this research will help organic lentil growers improve yields and nutritional quality leading to better returns on investments. OFRF and FFAR initially partnered in 2019 to increase research funding for organic legume production. Eberly’s grant is the first of thirteen research projects OFRF will fund this year focused on the most pressing challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers today. This is the most grants OFRF has awarded in a single year, due in large part to a match from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) aimed at funding research related to improving soil health and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. “Every year, we are impressed by the number of strong research proposals we receive from across North America,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “Thankfully, we were able to confirm that all of the research projects we selected to fund this year will be able to move forward despite the current pandemic.” The amount of legume seeds planted on each acre effects nutrient acquisition, weed management and yield potential. Little is known about the optimum amount seed that should be planted in organic cropping systems to maximize these benefits. Eberly is addressing this knowledge gap by exploring the relationship between seeding rates, lentil yields and soil health. Trials performed in 2019 showed that increasing seeding rates significantly increased lentil yields and reduced weed density by an average of 40 percent. Based on these results, Eberly and team are further increasing seeding rates this season to ensure they capture the maximum weed suppression and yield response. The research team is also performing a cost-benefit analysis to determine if higher seeding rates and yields are economically beneficial for organic farmers. “FFAR is thrilled to partner with OFRF for a second year to enhance soil health and support thriving farms,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “This research has the potential to improve yields, increase profits and reduce environmental impact.” Overall, OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity of organic farming. Their grant program is focused on supporting researchers and producers working collaboratively to verify and document innovative organic practices that support the improvement and widespread adoption of organic agriculture. Project results are shared freely at ofrf.org. OFRF also provides free access to its educational materials and resources. ### 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 Organic Farming Research Foundation OFRF is a non-profit foundation that works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.


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  • Undergrad-led study suggests light environment modifications could maximize productivity

    From left, former Illinois Summer Fellow from the University of Oxford Robert Collison, former post-doctoral researcher Charles Pignon, and former Illinois Summer Fellow from Oxford Emma Raven discovered that altered light conditions were the cause of a maladaptation that limits photosynthesis in the bottom leaves of maize and the bioenergy crop Miscanthus. CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The crops we grow in the field often form dense canopies with many overlapping leaves, such that young “sun leaves” at the top of the canopy are exposed to full sunlight with older “shade leaves” at the bottom. In order to maximize photosynthesis, resource-use efficiency, and yield, sun leaves typically maximize photosynthetic efficiency at high light, while shade leaves maximize efficiency at low light. “However, in some of our most important crops, a maladaptation causes a loss of photosynthetic efficiency in leaves at the bottom of the canopy, which limits the plants’ ability to photosynthesize and produce yields,” said Charles Pignon, a former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. “In order to address this problem, it’s important to know whether this is caused by leaves being older or exposed to a different light environment at the bottom of the canopy.” This question was answered in a recent study published in Frontiers in Plant Science, where researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Oxford worked with maize and the bioenergy crop Miscanthus to find that the decline in the efficiency of leaves at the bottom of the canopy was not due to their age but to their altered light environment. This work was conducted through the Illinois Summer Fellows (ISF) program. Launched in 2018, ISF allows undergraduate students to conduct plant science research alongside highly skilled scientists at Illinois. 2018 Fellows Robert Collison and Emma Raven worked with Pignon and Stephen Long, the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois, to confirm and better understand results from previous studies for Water Efficient Sorghum Technologies (WEST), a research project that aimed to develop bioenergy crops that produce more biomass with less water. Photosynthesis is the natural process that plants use to convert sunlight into energy. Plants usually fall under the two main types of photosynthesis — C3 and C4. The difference between these types is that C4 plants have a mechanism that concentrates carbon dioxide inside their leaves, allowing them to photosynthesize more efficiently. However, most plants, trees, and crops operate using the less efficient C3 photosynthesis. Both sun and shade leaves contribute to photosynthetic carbon assimilation, producing the sugars that feed the plant and fuel yield. Therefore, lower canopy photosynthesis is an important process that affects the yield of the whole plant, with an estimated 50 percent of total canopy carbon gain contributed by shade leaves. Previous studies of C3 plants have shown that shaded leaves are typically more efficient than sun leaves at low light intensities, meaning shaded leaves adapt to their low light environment. However, a previous study by Pignon and Long showed that this is not the case for all plants. The canopies of maize and Miscanthus, C4 crops that usually photosynthesize more efficiently than C3 crops, had shade leaves that were less photosynthetically efficient, suggesting a maladaptation in these important crops. “Shade leaves receive very little light, so they usually become very efficient with low light use,” said Pignon, now a plant physiologist at Benson Hill in St. Louis. “Essentially, they make the most of what little light they do receive. However, in the C4 crops we studied, shade leaves in these crops not only receive very little light, but they also use it less efficiently. It’s a very costly maladaptation in crops that are otherwise highly productive — hence our calling it an Achilles’ heel.” With six to eight layers of leaves in our modern maize crop stands, most leaves are shaded and can account for half of the plant’s growth during the critical phase of grain filling. “In the previous study, researchers estimated that this maladaptation was causing a loss of 10 percent in potential canopy photosynthesis gain,” said Raven, who recently graduated from Oxford with plans to pursue her doctorate. “There are essentially two potential reasons: the age of the leaves or the light conditions, so we investigated which factor was causing this inefficiency.” Collison and Raven, co-first authors of this newly published paper, collected data and analyzed the maximum quantum yield of photosynthesis — the maximum efficiency with which light is used to assimilate carbon — in leaves of the same chronological age but different light environments to discover the crops’ Achilles’ heel. This was achieved by comparing leaves of the same age in the center of plots of these species versus those on the sunlight southern edge of these plots. From this, they showed that the poor photosynthetic efficiency of these crops’ lower leaves is caused by altered light conditions and not age. “Maize and Miscanthus are both closely related to sugarcane and sorghum, so other C4 crops could potentially have this loss in photosynthetic efficiency caused by the light environment,” explained Collison, who has also graduated from Oxford and may pursue graduate studies. “By finding the cause of this loss in efficiency, we can begin to look at potential solutions to this problem, modifying plants to improve their productivity.” Illinois Summer Fellows Program  The ISF program has cultivated an environment where the Fellows have the independence needed to develop as scientists while knowing that they have the support and encouragement of their supervisors. Fellows are paired with a scientist supervisor to assist them with a specific element of a project aimed to increase crops’ photosynthetic and/or water-use efficiency. The program aims to provide a rewarding experience that helps students develop as scientists, and ultimately, to consider pursuing careers in plant biology. “The opportunity to travel to another country and conduct meaningful research in a real-world field environment alongside mentors in their field is invaluable,” said Long, who launched and directs the ISF program at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “At the end of their time at Illinois, our Fellows have expressed that this experience allowed them to contribute to the world and take back valuable skills they can apply in their future endeavors as innovators in the field of agriculture and beyond.” Collison reflects on his time at Illinois as an experience that not many students, especially so early in their career, get to take part in. “The chance to do any research so early in your career as a scientist is really exciting,” he said. “Everyone we met— including our supervisors and other scientists — was always willing to help us.” Raven also shared her insights on the value of doing research at Illinois and what differences there may be in other academic or work settings. “When you are attending lectures or practical classes, you never quite get that feeling of true ownership of your own projects because you just follow whatever your professor tells you to do,” Raven said. “But having ownership of this paper at Illinois is gratifying. It is also exciting to be a part of something that is bigger than us and will ultimately help farmers in other countries to grow food more sustainably.” The ISF program is supported by Oxford University in England and the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project led by Illinois that is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis. It 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). For more information about the ISF program and the application process, visit https://ripe.illinois.edu/team/illinois-summer-fellows. Water Efficient Sorghum Technologies (WEST) is a research project that is developing bioenergy crops that require less water per acre, ensuring a sustainable source of biofuel. The project is supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and led by the University of Illinois in partnership with Cornell University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. 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. Editor’s Notes: A one-minute video about this work as well as photos and captions are available online. The paper “Light, Not Age, Underlies The Maladaptation Of Maize And Miscanthus Photosynthesis To Self-Shading” published by the journal Frontiers in Plant Science is available online (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.00783) or by request.


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  • FFAR Grant to Accelerate Crop Development

    AMES (June 29, 2020)—To meet the growing global food demand, plant breeding technology must increase crop yields in less time. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $748,548 Seeding Solutions grant to Iowa State University of Science and Technology to accelerate crop development. Iowa State University, KWS SAAT SE & Co, Beck’s Superior Hybrids, BASF, SAATEN-UNION BIOTEC and RAGT are providing matching funds for a total $1,497,097 investment. The global demand for food, feed and fiber is projected to double by 2050. Currently, it takes ten years, on average, for plant breeders to develop a new crop. Farmers need enhanced varieties sooner to meet future food production demands. Iowa State University researchers are developing breeding methods that apply to multiple crop species, to accelerate the plant breeding process. These breeding techniques will deliver improved crop varieties – with greater yields – into the hands of farmers sooner. Researchers are developing and validating a rapid cycling cell culture-based selection system, using corn as the model. In lay terms, researchers are accelerating breeding in the lab, rather than in the fields. Field trials only produce one generation of crops a year, whereas this research method can produce multiple generations in a year, which is a more efficient way to create new crop varieties. Principal investigator Thomas Lubberstedt is the founder of the Doubled Haploid Facility at Iowa State University, providing service to public and private maize breeders for accelerated inbred line development since 2010. “The novel FFAR project takes this technology to the next level, including isolation of genes controlling spontaneous haploid genome doubling,” said Lubberstedt. “Developing cutting edge plant breeding technology ensures that farmers are able to provide more nutritious crops more efficiently,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Translating this research from the lab onto farms is key to meeting food production challenges and staying competitive in this next frontier of agricultural innovation.” FFAR’s Seeding Solutions Grant Program is an open call for bold ideas that address a pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. Iowa State University’s research supports FFAR’s  Next Generation Crops Area. FFAR’s work in this area supports the advancement of novel, nutritious, profitable and resilient farm crops. ### 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 and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking


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  • FFAR Accelerates Development of New Crop Varieties for Growers

    WASHINGTON (May 27, 2020) – Farmers regularly face challenges from insects, disease and climate change – which can threaten US food security. To help farmers overcome these obstacles, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is providing research funding to develop transformative tools and technologies that allow scientists to rapidly introduce new traits into multiple crop species. Such tools and technologies would ultimately increase food security by providing more resilient, diverse and profitable crops for growers. This request for proposals is funded through FFAR’s Crops of the Future Collaborative and is accepting applications starting today. Introducing a new trait into a crop using traditional breeding methods requires 8-10 years before the enhanced crop reaches farmers. This program is developing methodologies to reduce this timeline by several years, getting improved crops into the hands of farmers sooner. “These tools and technologies could introduce any crop trait into any crop variety, resulting in more diverse, sustainable and nutritious crops,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “The lack of rapid crop breeding tools is one of the biggest bottlenecks preventing the commercialization of underutilized crops. FFAR’s Crops of the Future Collaborative aims to address this.” The Crops of the Future Collaborative seeks applications for crops species that are well suited for sustainable agriculture, valuable for human nutrition and considered an under-appreciated crop that has not benefited from rapid breeding methods. Full application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are be available on the Crops of the Future Collaborative website. The Crops of the Future Collaborative is a consortium of industry partners that jointly contribute to pre-competitive research projects, fostering a comprehensive approach to address some of agriculture’s most complex challenges. The consortium is pursuing research into how a crop’s genetic information encodes important characteristics such as nutrition, disease resistance, productivity and environmental efficiency. The resulting breakthroughs create more sustainable food systems and benefit stakeholders across the value chain, from producers to consumers. ### About the Crops of the Future Collaborative The Crops of the Future Collaborative is a public-private, multi-participant consortium convened by Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The Collaborative brings together companies and leading research organizations to accelerate the development of new crop varieties that address challenges in food and agriculture. The Collaborative leverages the knowledge, capabilities, and financial resources of participants to expand the scientific understanding of characteristics giving rise to complex traits that crops need to adapt to changing environments. Learn more: www.foundationfar.org/cotf/


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  • ICASA Solicits Call for Research Concepts to Address Infectious Cattle and Pig Diseases

    WASHINGTON (May 6, 2020) –The International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture (ICASA), one of the largest public-private partnerships focused on antibiotic stewardship in animal agriculture, is soliciting calls for research concepts related to metaphylaxis, an approach to controlling infectious diseases in beef cattle and pigs. Infectious outbreaks in cattle and pigs can be difficult to detect and prevent with the tools that are currently available. As a result, it can be challenging to know the best time to treat animals and which animals will benefit most from treatment. Without the proper tools to identify affected animals, diseases spread rapidly and can have significant impacts for producers. For example, one of the most prevalent and economically important diseases affecting cattle is bovine respiratory disease (BRD), which affects approximately 20 percent of cattle and costs producers $800-900 million annually. One approach to treating and controlling BRD and other infectious diseases is called metaphylaxis, in which a group of animals is treated at the same time to prevent the disease from spreading and affecting many animals. However, it is a challenge to know when to use metaphylaxis and how to best identify and exclude animals that may not need treatment. More accurate detection tools and strategies are needed to better predict the occurrence of infectious diseases in cattle and pigs while enhancing animal welfare and preserving the economic sustainability of the industry. ICASA is soliciting research concepts to develop tools that enable producers and veterinarians to identify the animals at highest risk of infectious diseases and those that would benefit most from treatment. Such tools would enable more targeted approaches to metaphylaxis. Separately, researchers should address how metaphylaxis impacts the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance and/or develop health and management practices that improve health outcomes in beef cattle and pigs. “ICASA is working across the industry to tackle the complicated problem of when and how to best administer antibiotics in livestock to improve animal welfare,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “We are looking forward to reviewing proposals for strategies and technologies that improve metaphylaxis and ensure the judicious use of antibiotics. Additional information about the call for research concepts is available on the ICASA website. Pre-applications are due June 17, 2020 and must be submitted via FFAR’s online portal. Applications will be reviewed by ICASA participants and will be evaluated on a variety of factors including potential for supply chain implementation, potential for impact, likelihood for successful completion, originality, key personnel qualifications and strength of partnerships. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) created ICASA in 2019 to facilitate research that promotes the judicious use of antibiotics, advances animal health and welfare and increases transparency in food production practices. ICASA improves antibiotic stewardship by building cross-sector partnerships among participants representing all stages of the US livestock supply chain. ### About the International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture The International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture (ICASA) is a public-private partnership created by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to advance research on antimicrobial stewardship in animal agriculture. ICASA’s research promotes the judicious use of antibiotics, advances animal health and wellness, and increases transparency in food production practices. FFAR’s initial $7.5 million investment is matched by the ICASA participants for a total investment of $15 million in antimicrobial stewardship research. ICASA’s founding participants include: Advanced Animal Diagnostics, the Beef Alliance, Cactus Research, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, HyPlains Research and Education Center, JBS USA, McDonald’s, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Board, the Noble Research Institute, Pipestone Veterinary Services, Tyson Foods, US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and Veterinary Research and Consulting Services.


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  • FFAR Grant Addresses Cattle Fever Tick Re-Invasion in Texas

    A male southern cattle fever tick. Photo taken by the USDA-ARS Cattle Fever Tick Research Laboratory. WASHINGTON (April 29, 2020) – In addition to market volatility threats from the current pandemic, Texas cattle ranchers have been battling another threat: the southern cattle fever tick (Rhipicephalus microplus). This tick can carry pathogens that cause deadly cattle fever, bovine babesiosis, for which there is no vaccine or treatment. When the tick is found on cattle, ranches or even adjacent areas, all cattle must be quarantined – which causes significant economic hardship. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, together with the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation, awarded a $50,000 Rapid Outcomes for Agriculture Research (ROAR) grant to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) to research and develop biological control technologies to prevent and contain this parasite. Cattle fever ticks were eradicated in the US in 1943, with the exception of a permanent quarantine area along the border between South Texas and Mexico. White-tailed deer and nilgai facilitated the reintroduction of the tick outside the quarantine areas and into other areas of Texas. Cattle fever ticks are a threat if they carry the cattle fever pathogens, which can kill 70 to 90 percent of infected cattle. While no ticks in the US have tested positive for the pathogens, they are present in Mexico. “An outbreak of cattle fever could decimate the Texas cattle industry,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “The best way to protect cattle and Texas ranchers is to halt the tick invasion in the US. FFAR is funding research to identify a natural tick predator that can be introduced in Texas to protect animal health and ranchers’ livelihoods.” Spraying pesticides to control the ticks in vast, rugged areas or on wildlife is not feasible. Instead, USDA-ARS researchers are studying parasitoids, predatory insects that prey on the ticks, to identify a natural biological control that could be introduced in Texas. As the southern cattle fever tick is native to parts of Asia, the researchers are identifying parasitoids from Vietnam and other parts of the native range to help control the tick’s spread. USDA-ARS’s work in Vietnam will test the cattle fever tick’s susceptibility to a variety of parasitic Asian tick predators and determine if any can be imported to combat the spread of the tick in Texas. Researchers have the expertise to identify a biological control agent that will only prey on cattle fever ticks and not interfere with other species. The Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation contributed $25,000 to match FFAR’s investment of $25,000 in this important research. ### 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 Partners with FoodShot Global to Launch Two Challenges

    WASHINGTON (April 21, 2020) – The coronavirus is creating unprecedented stress for our food system. More than ever, innovative technologies and strategies are needed to make the food system healthier, sustainable and equitable. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and its FoodShot Global partners are launching two new FoodShot Challenges: Precision Protein and Innovating Soil 3.0, Deep Dive to fund strategies and technologies that produce more nutritious food with less environmental strain. FFAR is partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Builders Initiative and the Path Foundation to fund the $500,000 GroundBreaker Prize will be awarded to researchers, early stage entrepreneurs and advocates who are creating FoodShot solutions. The focus of this year’s FoodShot is Precision Protein, which seeks to develop proteins systematically to build a food system that is precisely attuned to human and planetary health, aligns with global and regional supply and demand, increases accessibility, and decreases waste and environmental damage. FoodShot Global also announced that it would build on its successful inaugural FoodShot, Innovating Soil 3.0, by launching a “deep dive” to fill key gaps and support innovations with the maximum potential for scale and global impact. Innovating Soil 3.0, Deep Dive, specifically funds scientific advances and technologies related to soil carbon measurement, microbiome functionality and rapid adoption of regenerative practices. “Spearheading bold agricultural research that advances the global food system is a cornerstone of FFAR’s mission. We are proud to join many innovative partners from across the food and agriculture sector to support innovations in protein and soil health,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “We share Foodshot Global’s mission to revolutionize the food system from the ground-up.” First-round applications and nominations for both the Precision Protein and Innovating Soil 3.0,  Deep Dive FoodShots are due July 15, 2020. Applicants will be judged on key criteria, including alignment with the FoodShot mission and Challenge focus, global relevance, scalability, and ability to make an accelerated impact for systemic change. For more information, please visit www.foodshot.org. ### About FoodShot Global  Headquartered in New York, FoodShot Global is a non-profit investment platform founded by venture capitalist and co-founder of S2G Ventures, Victor Firedberg. FSG brings together a worldwide consortium of mission-aligned venture funds, banks, corporations, universities, and foundations to catalyze the success of global, transformative solutions to critical food and agriculture problems. FoodShot's annual Challenge identifies the most pressing obstacles to creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable global food system. FoodShot Global Founding Partners include Rabobank, Generation Investment Management, Mars Edge, UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Builders Initiative, Armonia, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture as well as resource partners The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Sall Family Foundation, Path Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Soil Health Institute, and venture partners S2G, ACRE, Activant Capital, ASW Ventures, Grantham Foundation and The Yield Lab.   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 Funds Veterinary Research to Address Pandemic Diseases

    WASHINGTON D.C. (April 8, 2020) – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is funding five additional Vet Fellowships to conduct pandemic and zoonotic research. The FFAR Vet Fellows program equips veterinary students with the expertise to address future agricultural challenges. 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. “The coronavirus is an example of how pathogens can move between humans and animals,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “Understanding new diseases in animals, and especially how they spread, is vital to slowing transmission and developing remedies. FFAR is expanding the Vet Fellows to assure we have the expertise in the veterinary community to address what could be future pandemics.” A recent JAVMA article agrees that veterinarians are needed in the research field to be part of the solution. FFAR is ensuring that the future scientific workforce includes veterinarians with expertise in zoonotic pathogens by funding five additional Vet Fellowships to conduct research on pathogens that threaten agricultural productivity and human health. To bolster the scientific workforce in response to the coronavirus, FFAR is not requiring the 2020 Vet Fellows to secure matching funds. Additionally, FFAR and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), who partners with FFAR to administer the program, extended the nomination deadline to May 6, 2020. The FFAR Vet Fellows program will still support ten students to conduct research on agricultural productivity, public health and environmental sustainability. Information about applying for the FFAR Vet Fellows Program is available on the website. The fifteen 2020 FFAR Vet Fellows will be announced in summer 2020. ### 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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  • 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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