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FFAR Announces New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Awardees


Today, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the 10 recipients of the 2022 New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award, an award granted to early-career scientists supporting research in one of FFAR’s Challenge Areas. FFAR’s New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award provides early-career scientists with funding to conduct audacious food and agriculture research without the pressure of securing additional funding. Cumulatively, the recipients are receiving a total of $8,950,028 over three years.

When scientists can spend less time searching for funding, that means more time for science. FFAR is proud to support these early career scientists as they pursue the creative research that will overcome current and future challenges to our agricultural and food systems. Saharah Moon Chapotin, Ph.D.
Executive Director

The following individuals are the 2022 New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award recipients:

Climate-smart agriculture increases food security and limits adverse environmental impact. Currently, agriculture decision support tools for water management are unsuitable for climate-smart agriculture because they mostly serve the single purpose of increasing crop productivity. Calabrese’s research is developing water management strategies that not only optimize crop productivity, but also increase carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote soil health and resilience. By studying how soil and water management affect soil biophysical properties and carbon and nutrient cycling, the research aims to develop novel decision support tools that can help catalyze the transition to effective climate-smart agricultural practices.

Population growth and a changing climate are increasing the pressure on our land, water and food supply. Alternative sustainable protein supply chains not reliant on traditional agriculture are needed for future food security. Grossmann’s research is studying high-protein bacteria that use hydrogen as an energy source, which can be produced sustainably and using less land than traditional agriculture. By studying ways to cultivate these bacteria and process them into protein-rich food ingredients, this research is contributing to the development of alternative regional sustainable supply chains and promoting production practices that improve food and nutrition security.

Beekeepers in the United States face challenges keeping their colonies alive and productive each year. Bee breeders have responded to these challenges by working to develop healthier and more productive bee breeds. Unfortunately, most bee breeding methods were developed almost a century ago and do not use genome-enabled breeding techniques. Harpur’s research program sets out to work directly with bee breeders to develop and evaluate genome-enabled breeding techniques while producing a large genomic database for honeybees across the country. This work will empower both basic science and future applied breeding efforts in bees.

Bacterial plant pathogens constrain small and large agricultural production systems and cause significant annual losses. Increased agricultural trade, human movement, rapid pathogen evolution and a changing climate make many of the tactics used to combat pathogens impossible to implement. Huerta is developing an ecological community-level understanding of how plant pathogenic bacteria survive and compete in agricultural microbiomes and aims to develop new management and diagnostic tools and host/microbiome interaction models. The research is integrating wireless technology and big data science and tools to develop a user-friendly, interactive app farmers can use to manage soilborne diseases of crops based on knowledge from their own soil.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity are three of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. To address these, agroecology stresses the importance of promoting biodiversity conservation and food sovereignty in our food system. Jiménez-Soto’s agroecology lab uses interdisciplinary, multiregional, and community-based approaches to examine the impacts of environmental change on biodiversity and human livelihoods, and the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services in rural and urban agricultural landscapes. This research aims to understand how farmers and their agroecosystems are adapting to ongoing social and environmental change in the U.S. and Latin America.

Monitoring soil properties is an effective way to decrease resource consumption while maintaining crop yields. However, most farms do not use sensor data to guide soil inputs and irrigation, primarily because traditional sensor networks are costly and require significant labor to install and maintain. Josephson is creating a new technique for agricultural soil sensing that pairs wireless underground tags with an aboveground mobile reader. This will enable completely wireless soil measurements with low maintenance and deployment costs, while achieving high-accuracy and high-resolution.

Although the indoor farming industry has attracted large investments, many operations have failed to be productive, profitable and scalable. In part, this is due to a knowledge gap in understanding how to balance multiple factors for indoor growth. While previous plant physiology research has advanced our understanding of how individual factors influence plant growth and development, there has not been enough focus on how these factors work as a whole. Meng’s research aims to improve the whole-plant photosynthesis and nutritional quality of indoor crops by understanding and optimizing the interactions among key environmental factors such as light, air temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide and root-zone factors, such as fertilization, for each growth phase.

The impacts of climate change on urban tree crops and productions are largely unknown, posing a significant threat to urban farming efforts and their future resilience and sustainability. Ossola’s research is leveraging big data to create novel scientific evidence on the climate suitability and vulnerability of dozens of urban tree crop species across the U.S. By crowd sourcing data from urban farmers, the project will develop robust climate models for selected tree cultivars and varieties. The researchers will use these models to build a data portal and plant selection tool for climate-ready tree crops to assist urban farmers with planning, establishing and growing climate-resilient urban food systems.

The beef industry faces pressure to reduce its environmental footprint and help combat climate change, but increasing sustainability presents a complex challenge. Our current understanding of the biology that confers reduced environmental impact is limited, particularly for grazing cows. Rowan’s research leverages machine learning, high throughput phenotyping and genomics to measure and predict sustainability-related traits like water use, forage intake and methane emission. Additionally, Rowan’s team will use genomic approaches to identify genes and genetic networks affecting sustainability traits. Together, this information can be used to create genetic selection tools and precision management strategies that empower producers to maximize efficiency while reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.

Manure management poses profound challenges for modern agriculture, with effects spanning crop and livestock productivity, environmental quality and animal welfare. Decades of agricultural intensification have led to incredible gains in productivity, but also to the separation of crop and animal production. As a result, feeding operations manage large stores of manure while feed-producing farms purchase costly commercial fertilizers. Spiegal’s research is developing a Manureshed Action Research Cycle to build regional and supply-chain resilience through systematic recycling of manure nutrients onto beef, dairy, poultry and swine feed crops. This research integrates social and biophysical science with stakeholder engagement to give animal producers, farmers and ranchers better capacity to connect with each other to redistribute manure nutrients from farms with manure surplus to fields and pastures that can use it sustainably.

On average, FFAR garners $1.40 in matching funds from private partners for every federal dollar allocated. FFAR is using the overmatch, the funding garnered on top of the 1:1 match, to fully fund the New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award program. Eliminating the matching requirements opens this award program to a broader pool of applicants.

The New Innovator Awardees’ promising research reflects FFAR’s commitment to scientific workforce development and helps create new avenues of knowledge that deliver groundbreaking solutions to difficult challenges.


Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.


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