Happy National Pollinator Week! This week, we honor the many insects and animals that allow agriculture to flourish. A pollinator is any animal that transfers pollen within a single plant or from one plant to another of the same species, aiding in the reproduction process. There are over 200,000 species that serve as pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds and bats. Even lemurs in Madagascar are pollinators! Healthy pollinator species are directly correlated to a thriving ecosystem. In fact, nearly 75% of all crops require pollination for producing the food we eat and it is estimated that approximately 1/3 of all food and beverage products come from pollinated plants. Farmers rely on pollinator species for higher quality crops and increased yield. Yet pollinators have been declining since at least the mid-20th century. For managed honey bees, their population of 5 million in the 1940s has declined to 2.89 million today – that’s nearly half our bees disappearing! The Monarch butterfly population has declined by 95% just in the past two decades. The deterioration of these various species may be due to factors like increased use of herbicides and pesticides, urbanization, and the spread of invasive species. But it’s not just about numbers. Poor pollinator health leads to lower pollination efficiency, susceptibility to disease, and decreased benefits to crops. We all have something to lose when our pollinators aren't thriving. At FFAR, we believe research and innovation will promote the growth of pollinator populations back to health. In 2017, FFAR awarded more than $7 million to 16 teams to support science and technology to support health and maintenance of various pollinator populations. These projects are funded by more than 50 universities, companies, and organizations committed to improving pollinator health for a total investment of $14 million in pollinator health. By working together, we can restore the health of our pollinators and ensure a flourishing future for agriculture.About the AuthorDr. Sally Rockey became the inaugural Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in September 2015. Prior to this role, Dr. Rockey was a leader in Federal research, overseeing the operations of the extramural programs in both agriculture and biomedicine. She spent 19 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before taking on the extramural research program at the National Institutes of Health. As Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Dr. Rockey led groundbreaking initiatives and activities that have and will have a lasting positive impact on the research community. Dr. Rockey received her Ph.D. in Entomology from the Ohio State University.
By Sally Rockey, FFAR Executive Director Greetings from Champaign, Illinois! By now you’ve heard about the groundbreaking RIPE project and its quest to improve photosynthetic efficiency in plants. I had the pleasure of joining co-funders from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and U.K. Department of International Development along with agricultural leaders and USDA representatives to see firsthand where the innovation happens during the RIPE Reinvestment event at the University of Illinois.From left to right: FFAR Board Member Pam Johnson, RIPE Deputy Director Don Ort, FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey, and University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones. RIPE, or Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, researchers have already redesigned photosynthesis to increase test crop yields by 20 percent. Now, with an additional $45 million investment, the team of University and USDA scientists is working to provide those same yield increases to soybeans, cassava, and cowpeas. Imagine what this could mean in the fight against world hunger. Farmers across the world could produce more food simply by harnessing the power of the sun. There is endless potential in this project to improve human health and increase economic opportunities for farmers. Johannes Kromdijk, Postdoctoral Researcher for RIPE, explained the rigorous process of studying the photosynthetic process of plants in his lab in the Carl. R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. The RIPE team brings together experts from around the world to look at photosynthesis – the process that makes a plant a plant! It’s basic for plant survival, yet it can be very inefficient. By studying plant genetics, RIPE will lead the way in creating crops that will feed the world. Tackling big problems with big science is what FFAR is all about. It was amazing to see how many labs and researchers are involved in this project, not only at University of Illinois but also at partner institutions across the U.S. and overseas – it really is a team effort! I’m excited to see what discoveries they make and how it will change the world. I’m proud to support RIPE researchers and their work toward ending hunger with innovative science. About the AuthorDr. Sally Rockey became the inaugural Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in September 2015. Prior to this role, Dr. Rockey was a leader in Federal research, overseeing the operations of the extramural programs in both agriculture and biomedicine. She spent 19 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before taking on the extramural research program at the National Institutes of Health. As Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Dr. Rockey led groundbreaking initiatives and activities that have and will have a lasting positive impact on the research community. Dr. Rockey received her Ph.D. in Entomology from the Ohio State University.