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FFAR Fellows Program

FFAR Contact

Dr. LaKisha Odom

NC State Contact

Dr. Rebecca Dunning

This opportunity is now closed

FFAR established the Rockey FFAR Fellows Fund to make the Program’s professional development opportunities more accessible to all participants. Donate today to honor Dr. Rockey and prepare future scientists to tackle complex food and agriculture challenges.

About the FFAR Fellows

US food and agricultural systems are regularly experiencing new challenges, including climate change, a growing population and evolving pests and pathogens. Employers need early-career scientists trained to conduct research that helps farms and food systems adapt to these unprecedented changes.

We established the  FFAR Fellows Program, with North Carolina State University, to provide career guidance to the next generation of food and agriculture scientists. Unique to this program, we prepare a career ready STEM workforce by breaking down the disciplinary silos and focusing on professional development and soft-skills.

Fellows receive grants to pursue research that aligns with our Challenge Areas. Additionally, students are paired with industry mentors who provide career guidance. This mentorship equips students with the skills needed to facilitate their transition to the workforce and prepare future food and agriculture leaders.

The flagship component of the FFAR Fellows Program is the annual professional development workshop, where fellows participate in professional and interpersonal skills training. These trainings are complimented by a personalized development plan to help students excel in the workforce.

In partnership with a consortium of industry leaders, this $2.7 million grant prepares the agricultural workforce to optimize impact on the future of the industry.

The FFAR Fellows Program funds up to 48 graduate students over three years using an interdisciplinary approach to career readiness. Fellows work with university and industry representatives as well as their peers to conduct urgent research and engage in professional development.

The FFAR Fellows Program is led by the Academic Programs Office at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University.

How to Apply

Are you interested in our FFAR Fellow program? Learn more about the application process and eligibility requirements on the North Carolina State University website.

Advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals

FFAR Fellows Program supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 17 global goals to enhance peace and prosperity, eradicate poverty and protect the environment. Specifically, this research bolsters the following SDGs:

FFAR Fellow Cohorts

Year: 2022-2025

Connor Balfany

North Carolina State University; The Leaf Protein Company

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Rubisco is an enzyme found in most vegetables that has an abundance of nutritional value. The increase in attraction for plant-based foods brings attention to rubisco extraction; however, knowledge gaps still exist for extraction and product formulation. Balfany is extracting rubisco from crop waste to produce a high-quality food product.

Learn about Blafany’s research

Jonathan Beutler

University of British Columbia; Alberta Wheat Commission

  • Next Generation Crops

Plant pathogens have been a long pressing challenges for crop breeders and farmers. Latest technological toolkits help in genotyping crops to mitigate these pathogens yet, there is still limited access to such technology. Beutler’s research is developing a platform to monitor the evolution of fungal pathogens in cereal crops and rapidly mitigate them.

Learn about Beutler’s research

Sujata Bogati

Purdue University; Purdue University

  • Next Generation Crops

Bogati is developing a physiological process-based model for different types of soybeans to improve prediction accuracy under various environmental scenarios. This research helps breeders and producers find the most suitable crops with the highest performance based on region.

Learn about Bogati’s research

Ruth Eunice Centeno Martinez

Purdue University; Purdue University

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is a combination of respiratory diseases or cattle pneumonia in which bacteria and viruses infect the lungs, compromising the immune system and sometimes leading to animal death. Martinez is analyzing ways in which commensal bacteria can be used as an antibiotic alternative to prevent the spread of BRD.

Learn about Martinez’s research

Sarah Chu

Texas A&M; Cotton, Inc.

  • Soil Health

Chu is examining harvest weed seed control technologies to control seeds that are harvested at the same time as the crop. This research helps decrease the use of herbicides and tillage which severely impact soil health

Learn about Chu’s research

Mira Conyers

University of California, Davis; Back of the Yards Algae

  • Next Generation Crops

The California strawberry industry, valued at 2 billion dollars, suffers significant losses from disease. Conyers’s research is investigating if cyanobacterial extract can protect strawberry plants against disease.

Learn about Conyers’ research

Matt Davis

University of California, Davis; California Pistachio Research Board

  • Next Generation Crops

Davis is researching the effects of long-term tissue culture on mutation in wood plants, such a pistachio. This research is also elucidating the genetic locus for salt tolerance in pistachio.

Learn about Davis’ research

Madeline Desjardins

Washington State University; King County Wastewater Treatment Division

  • Sustainable Water Management

Synthetic fertilizers can be detrimental to soil health over time. Biosolids are treated wastewater products that can be land applied as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers. Desjardins is focusing on the impacts of long-term biosolids applications and cover crop grazing on soil health and sustainable crop productivity in dryland grain systems.

Learn about Desjardins’ research

Lindsay Garcia

Oregon State University; Oregon State University

  • Next Generation Crops

The threat of wildfire smoke to vineyards has predominantly been an issue in the western United States. Smoke exposed grapes result in smoky, ashy and medicinal sensory characters that are undesirable in wine. Garcia is testing the films and determining whether the novel film coatings are a prospective preventative measure to stop wildfire smoke from entering the grapes.

Learn about Garcia’s research

Vinicius Castelli Garnica

North Carolina State University; UPL

  • Next Generation Crops

Fungicides are an important tool for farmers because they help protect against plant pathogens that cause damage to crops; however, overuse of fungicides lead to several problems such as resistance and environmental contamination. Garnica is characterizing the climatic factors associated with the incidence of a common foliar disease in wheat in North Carolina and developing models to help predict the optimal time to spray the crop.

Learn about Garnica’s research

Lushan Ghimire

University of Florida; Dricolls

  • Next Generation Crops

Blueberries have evolved from a regional commodity in the United States to a global specialty crop in a short span of time. Yet, several fungal and bacterial infections are preventing blueberries from reaching their full production potential. Ghimire is identifying genomic regions that regulate response to diseases in blueberries which helps for disease resistance.

Learn about Ghimire’s research

Katrina Klett

University of Minnesota; General Mills

  • Soil Health

Klett is examining how new crop insurance incentives could help farmers in the Midwest adopt more climate smart land use practices at scale. This research is incentivizing mass adoption of cover crop usage to improve soil health.

Learn about Klett’s research

Lidia Komondy

Cornell University; New York Farm Viability Insurance

  • Next Generation Crops

Komondy is examining the factors that drive increased pathogen transmission by insect vectors and the implementation of precision agricultural tools to facilitate the intelligent use of insecticides and to forecast pest outbreaks. This research develops a sequential sampling plan for onion thrips in onion production regions

Learn about Komondy’s research

Seldon Kwafo

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; KWS

  • Next Generation Crops

A plant’s access to nutrients in soil is essential for producing an abundance of sustainable crops. Kwafo is understanding the underlying mechanisms affecting nutrient deficiencies in food crops under elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by exploring soil conditions, reduced distribution and accumulation of nutrient tissues.

Learn about Kwafo’s research

Samuele Lamon

University of Georgia; University of Georgia

  • Next Generation Crops

Lamon is identifying techniques to increase genetic diversity in peanut. This research helps peanut companies reduce seed contamination and mitigate the negative effects of diseases and climate change on peanut harvests.

Learn about Lamon’s research

Autumn McLaughlin

University of Tennessee; Syngenta and Tennessee Corn Promotion Board

  • Next Generation Crops

Fungal pathogens that cause corn ear-rots are common worldwide, though the pathogens alone do not consistently result in significant yield loss. McLaughlin is studying the impacts of specific traits in corn hybrids on mycotoxin mitigation, as well as other pre-harvest management strategies to determine effective and sustainable integrated pest management (IPM) to assist growers in managing ear rots and mycotoxin contamination.

Learn about McLaughlin’s research

Rose Mumbi

Purdue University; Purdue University

  • Soil Health

Accumulated soil phosphorus is an important source of agricultural phosphorus loss, and it poses a continuous risk of loss to both surface and ground waters. Mumbi is understanding the concentration patterns and variance of soil phosphorus in agricultural watersheds and how these patterns influence phosphorus delivery to nearby waterways.

Learn about Mumbi’s research

Heeduk Oh

North Carolina State University; NCSU Plants for Human Health Institute

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Blueberries are widely cultivated and consumed throughout the world due to their pleasant flavor and numerous health benefits. Oh is unraveling the physiological and genetic mechanisms underlying fruit softening to improve blueberry shelf-life. This research is working to minimize food loss in blueberries while maximizing shelf-life quality.

Learn about Oh’s research

Stephen Onayemi

Washington State University; Syngenta

  • Next Generation Crops

The grape mealybug is an insect virus that results in a 60 percent decrease in grape yield and a significant decline in the quality of harvested grapes. Onayemi is analyzing alternative integrated pest management (IPM) methods of mating disruption to control the grape mealybug.

Learn about Onayemi’s research

Kevin Orta

North Carolina State University; UPL

  • Next Generation Crops

Stink bugs are devastating and persistent insect pests across much of the Southeastern United States. Focusing on corn, cottonand soybean within various ecoregions across North Carolina, Orta is identifying flora present within the woods surrounding fields as a driver for early-season stink bug colonization.

Learn about Orta’s research

Mariana Prieto Torres

North Carolina State University; Pickle Packers International

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Pseudoperonospora cubensis is a pathogen that causes mildew in crops. The pathogen is mainly controlled with weekly fungicide applications, which can cause long term effects to the crops. Torres is developing an ideal disease alert system would warn when to initiate the required weekly sprays at a time when fungicides.

Learn about Torres’ research

Riley Reed

Washington State University; Bejo Seed

  • Next Generation Crops

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are the most important agricultural pollinators, used to pollinate everything from apples to pumpkins. When necessary, they will fly several miles in search of forage to meet the nutritional needs of the colony, which can cause cross-pollination between fields. Reed is reducing foraging distance to improve isolation practices.

Learn about Reed’s research

Olanrewaju Shittu

Penn State University; Bayer

  • Soil Health

Shittu is developing a decision support system (DSS) for wheat growers in Pennsylvania. This research helps wheat growers to make disease management decisions relevant to their individual farms.

Learn about Shittu’s research

Nikee Shrestha

University of Nebraska, Lincoln; University of Nebraska, Lincoln

  • Next Generation Crops

Climate change has a direct impact on agriculture, food security and human health. Due to projected increases in temperature and shifts in rainfall patterns, changes in crop yields are inevitable. Shrestha is building genomic prediction models by understanding and utilizing the genetics behind the genotype-by-environment interaction.

Learn about Shrestha’s research

Samantha Surber

University of Georgia; University of Georgia

  • Next Generation Crops

Surber is uncovering the function of two xylem-abundant sulfate transporter genes on sulfate metabolism in wood forming tissue. This research providing insight into how tree growth and metabolism will shift and how this will affect biomass production for biofuels.

Learn about Surber’s research

Federico Tarnonsky

University of Florida; BioZyme

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Tarnonsky is developing different strategies to increase efficiency in the different phases of beef production and measure their environmental impact (carbon and water footprint), production level and cost effectiveness. This research contributes to reduction in air pollution and source of carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat and water reservoirs.

Learn about Tarnonsky’s research

Destiny Tyson

North Carolina State University; Syngenta

  • Next Generation Crops

Tropical maize is highly important to maize breeding as it is the most genetically diverse maize there is. Tropical maize is thought to have beneficial alleles, not found in temperate maize, that could be exploited to create new and improved maize varieties. Tyson is using biotechnology as a way to potentially improve maize varieties and tropical maize breeding.

Learn about Tyson’s research

Mei Ling Wong

Montana State University; FFAR Fellows

  • Next Generation Crops

Wong is developing and releasing improved spring wheat varieties for Montana spring wheat producers by finding a gene that controls spikelet number per spike in wheat and understanding plant plasticity and interaction effects on grain yield among multiple yield component traits.

Learn about Wong’s research

Year: 2021-2024

Jabeen Ahmad

North Carolina State University; Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk

  • Soil Health

As the population increases, food insecurity is also on the rise. One potential solution for addressing agriculture and food security challenges is plant growth-promoting (PGP) microbes. Ahmad is identifying and understanding the microbes that colonize wheat roots and the surrounding soil. This research will reduce agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizers while also increasing crop yields and improving soil health. 

Learn about Ahmad’s research

Randi Butler

North Carolina State University; NC State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the NIFA National Needs Fellows Program 

  • Urban Food Systems

Sweet potatoes are an essential horticultural crop. Severe weather events, higher humidity and temperatures can increase the crop’s susceptibility to plant pathogens. Butler is analyzing climate, weather, land use and soil data to understand the effects it has on crop yield, size and marketability of the sweet potato. This research focuses on data collected from field to market and will provide insight on how sweet potatoes impact the food system.

Learn about Butler’s research

Addison Carroll

Kansas State University; Kansas Wheat Commission

  • Next Generation Crops

Domestication of bread wheat has created a lack of genetic diversity in wheat compared to its wild relatives. By using genetic introgression, the transfer of genetics from one species into another, genetic diversity can be reintroduced. Carroll is identifying patterns of genetic introgression using a single genotyping data to help improve bread wheat yield and overall bread quality.

Learn about Carroll’s research

Shiang-Wan Chin

Cornell University; Microsoft

  • Urban Food Systems

Addressing food productivity gaps between supply and demand are critical to ensuring food security. Shiang-Wan Chin is developing a multi-objective decision making software tool to support farmers to profitability manage their farms while sustaining the environment.

Learn about Chin’s research

Chantel Chizen

University of Saskatchewan; University of Saskatchewan College of Agriculture and Biosciences

  • Soil Health

Prairie potholes are depressional wetlands often found in the upper Midwest region on the United States. Prairie pothole wetlands are typically drained to improve crop yields yet, this hinders the benefits that wetlands provide on soil health and water management. Chizen is evaluating how soil carbon storage impacts the type of prairie pothole wetland and overall soil health.

Learn about Chizen’s research

DeShae Dillard

North Carolina State University; Syngenta

  • Soil Health

Invasive pests such as the helicoverpa zea can be economically damaging, impacting a variety of essential crops such as soybean, corn and more. Pests are developing resistance to current insecticide usage. Dillard is assessing how current reduced of no-till recommendations can be integrated with pest management. This research provides a site-specific sustainable pest management tool that can replace current short-term insecticide usage.

Learn about Dillard’s research

Andrea Osario Doblado

University of Georgia; Indunor SA

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Farmers and ranchers are faced with the growing demand for animal protein, while also maintaining overall productivity and animal welfare. Osario Doblado is evaluating the use of astringent biomolecules such as tannins/saponins to increase beef cattle performance while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn about Doblado’s research

Elizabeth Ellis

Colorado State University; Post Holdings

  • Soil Health

Regenerative agriculture has great potential to improve crop yields, water management and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; however, questions remain about the ability of regenerative agriculture to deliver. Ellis is evaluating the soil health, socio-economic and climate resilience impacts of regenerative agriculture systems to determine sustainable on-farm practices that restore degraded ecosystems.

Learn about Ellis’ research

Jason Graham

Purdue University; Purdue University

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Heat stress is an increasingly grave concern in swine production due to the impacts of climate change. Genetic selection for pigs at the nucleus level can help provide a sustainable population. Graham is assessing the transgenerational epigenetic effect in-utero heat stress in swine populations.

Learn about Graham’s research

Caleb Grohmann

University of Missouri, Columbia; The Maschhoffs LLC

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Morbidity, increasing mortality rates and disease resistance negatively impacting the swine industry. Grohmann is evaluating environmental data derived from smart farms using advanced remote sensors to increase profitability, sustainability and animal welfare in the swine industry.

Learn about Grohmann’s research

Rachel Hammer

North Carolina State University; BASF

  • Next Generation Crops

Severe contemporary drought has altered the role of soil health and drought tolerance in plants. Hammer is investigating how microbiome benefits are altered by drought selection, local adaptation and the mechanisms underlying those effects. This research provides the basis for breeding for microbiome-mediated benefits.

Learn about Hammer’s research

Gambhir Lamsal

Virginia Tech; Virginial Tech College of Engineering

  • Sustainable Water Management

Water scarcity is a rising challenge as population increases and the effects of climate change intensifies. Lamsal is developing a model that quantifies water consumption at fine spatial and temporal resolution for the United States. This research provides and understanding of how past water use and projected future crop water requirements will impact agriculture.

Learn about Lamsal’s research

Enrique Pena Martinez

North Carolina State University; NC State University College of Engineering and the NIFA National Needs Fellows Program 

  • Next Generation Crops

Sweet potatoes vary in size to a great degree across individual potatoes. For this reason, many sweet potatoes are discarded for not meeting local and international market regulations. Enrique Pena Martinez is using optical sensors to predict sweet potato growth parameters. This research will improve the efficiency and sustainability of sweet potato production.

Learn about Martinez’s research

Conor McCabe

University of California, Davis

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Cattle stomach fermentation of plant matter is a large producer of methane emissions. This methane is then belched out by the animal and makes up almost half of a dairy farm's emissions. McCabe’s is examining feed additives that are provided to cows to reduce their enteric fermentation emissions.

Learn about McCabe’s research

Alexa McDaniel

Washington State University

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

McDaniel’s is conducting research on alternative pest management technologies in vineyards. The technologies she is pursuing include heated horticulture oil, ozonated water and ultraviolet C light (UVC) as pest management for powdery mildew and grape mealy bug in vineyards.

Learn about McDaniel’s research

Shana McDowell

North Carolina State University

  • Urban Food Systems

A profitable sale of sweet potatoes oftentimes depends on a preferred appearance as consumers purchase sweet potatoes of a desired look and size. McDowell is optimizing the sweet potato supply chain in North Carolina by analyzing data and providing insight on how to produce more of the desired sweet potatoes, improving sweet potato harvests and decreasing food waste.

Learn about McDowell’s research

Swati Mishra

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

  • Next Generation Crops

Ingestion and subsequent cellular uptake of double stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules triggers the RNA interference gene silencing mechanism resulting in sequence-specific suppression of the target gene. Silencing of essential insect genes by a complementary dsRNA can result in growth inhibition, abnormalities or insect death. Mishra is focused on understanding resistance to insecticidal dsRNA in the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). 

Learn about Mishra’s research

Nicolas Morales

Cornell University

  • Next Generation Crops

Morales is examining an image-derived phenotype known as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) which is a measure of canopy coverage and plant photosynthetic activity. His goal is to understand the stability of this phenotype across genotypes (maize hybrids and alfalfa accessions) and across environments.

Learn about Morales’s research

Paul Oladele

Purdue University

  • Advanced Animal Systems

During weaning, piglets are exposed to a variety of infectious agents as they are transported and housed with other piglets. This often leads to post-weaning diarrhea (PWD) during the first two weeks post weaning, a serious challenge to the swine industry causing significant economic loss.  Fecal transplant therapy might be effective in the treatment of PWD. Oladele’s research explores the relationship between the microbiome and the host, using this understanding to develop fecal transplant therapy for the prevention and treatment of PWD.

Learn more about Oladele’s research

Augustin Olivo

Cornell University

  • Soil Health

Olivo’s research is testing and comparing multiple whole-farm evaluation tools for assessment of environmental outcomes on a range of New York dairy farms. He is also developing key performance indicators and benchmarking strategies for a holistic assessment of a farm’s environmental performance.

Learn more about Olivo’s research

Sujan Paudel

University of Georgia

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Paudel’s research is focused on the onion, one of the important agricultural produce in Georgia and the US, and the effects of the bacterial pathogen Burkholderia gladioli pv. allicola (Bga). Disease mechanisms, survival, dispersal and host interactions aspects of this soil-borne pathogen are relatively understudied. Paudel’s goal is to understand the genetic determinants of virulence in this pathogen using a functional genetics approach.

Learn more about Paudel’s research

Shreena Pradhan

University of Georgia

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

50% of cultivable lands will be lost by the middle of the 21st century due to soil salinity. Traditional breeding and genetic engineering approaches using glycophytic (salt-sensitive) plants have had only limited success in developing salinity-resistant plants, despite significant efforts. Pradhan is unraveling the genetics of salt tolerance traits in halophytic (salt tolerant) turfgrasses by including a comparative approach with salt sensitive crop relatives like sorghum and finger millet. This may help pave the way for breeding salt tolerant cereals to combat food insecurity caused by yield loss due to saline soils. 

Learn about Pradhan’s research

Tyler Thomas

Colorado State University

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Liver abscesses occur in 12-32% of the cattle in most feedlots. Thomas is designing a model to study liver abscesses more accurately and in more detail. Additionally, he is examining the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical and traditional liver abscesses prevention strategies.

Learn about Thomas’s research

Ethan Triplett

Texas Tech University

  • Next Generation Crops

Triplett is identifying the mechanisms of resistance responsible for inducing tolerance, antixenosis (how much damage or how many herbivores a plant attracts) and antibiosis (how suitable the plant is for the herbivore) in sorghum to small insects called sugarcane aphids. Understanding these mechanisms would provide the necessary insights to produce diverse resistant hybrids by resistance type and location. To achieve this, he is employing an integrative approach that combines entomology, plant physiology, breeding, microscopy, biochemistry and atmospheric chemistry to identify the mechanistic basis of plant resistance to aphids.

Learn about Triplett’s research

Phoebe Unger

Washington State University

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Nano-bubble technology is a technique that has the potential to increase the potency of commonly used antimicrobials in the food and dairy industry, which can make tremendous strides towards reducing food spoilage. Unger is evaluating the impact of gas nano-bubbles on the efficacy of common antimicrobials against various pathogenic and spoilage bacteria on dairy processing surfaces.

Learn about Unger’s research

Aichatou Waziri

Washington State University

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Waziri is using genome wide association studies to identify spring wheat lines that include increased zinc and iron. She is also investigating the effect of different components of the wheat kernel on the human gut microbial community, which is tightly linked with human health.

Learn about Waziri’s research

Year: 2020 - 2023

Felipe Alves Correa Carvalho da Silva

University of Florida; STgenetics

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Pregnancy loss in cattle accounts for billions in lost revenue to the beef industry each year. It is often challenge to pinpoint exactly what causes reproductive loss. University of Florida research, Felipe Alves Correa Carvalho da Silva is identifying markers influenced by sex-steroid concentration that will predict pregnancy outcome in cattle. This research supports sustainability in cattle reproduction since by decreasing pregnancy loss will lead to increase production per unit of land.

Learn about Carvalho da Silva’s research

Lauren Anderson

North Carolina State University; AgBiome

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Protecting swine from disease is critical for pig producers. Understanding the swine microbiome, genetic materials such as bacteria and fungi that live inside their bodies, provides insights into health and disease issues impacting pigs. Anderson is investigating potential probiotic options from hardy, outdoor pigs that can improve pig welfare, reduce producer costs and ensure affordable pork products for consumers.

Learn about Anderson’s research

Sarah Bennett

Pennsylvania State University; Milk Specialties Global

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Feeding dairy cows fat supplements provides energy to support high-fat milk production. While this practice is common, it is not widely understood and the efficiency varies. Milk fat contributes to milk prices. Bennett is researching the optimal amount of fatty acids dairy cows need to maximize digestibility, milk fat yield and health. Milk producers can use this research to optimize milk fat production.

Learn about Bennett’s research

Maria Chavez

Colorado State University

  • Next Generation Crops

Insects are a novel way to provide protein for human and animal consumption. Black soldier fly larvae are especially ideal as livestock feed because of their high protein content. Additionally, the larvae waste can improve soil fertility and support urban agricultural environments, Chavez is investigating potential applications for waste produced by black soldier fly larvae during the industrial rearing process.

Learn about Chavez’s research

Ekramul Ehite

University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture; University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and University of Tennessee Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

  • Next Generation Crops

The non-edible portion of plants, called Lignocellulosic biomass, is an inexpensive, renewable and abundant source of energy that does not impact human and animal food production Ehite is improving the commercial viability of fuel, chemical products and lignocellulosic biomass derived from energy. This research can enhance crop diversity, farm profitability and food security.

Learn about Ehite’s research

Charles Farber

Texas A&M University; Star Roses and Plants

  • Next Generation Crops

With a rapidly changing environment and a growing population, agriculture must adapt to remain sustainable. Farber uses Raman spectra, a laser technology, to predict the health and stress of a plant. This research accelerates breeding and identifies diseases to ensure crops continue to thrive despite climate change.

Learn about Farber’s research

Shane Hansen

University of Wisconsin-Madison; Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

  • Next Generation Crops

Potato late blight is a devastating potato disease caused by a fungus-like organism. Potato producers primarily use chemical fungicides to control late blight, however these fungicides can negatively impact leaf surfaces, soils and aquifers. Hansen is investigating spray induced gene silencing as alternative methods to control late blight in potato. This research provides growers alternative tools to protect potato crops.

Learn about Hansen’s research

Siwook Hwang

Colorado State University; The Land Institute

  • Soil Health

Understanding how crop interact with soil microbial communities could result in healthier soils. Focusing on different three perennial grains crops, Hwang is analyzing how these crop varieties and systems ultimately influence the microbial composition. This research is improving the overall functionality of soils.

Learn about Hwang’s research

Nicholas Karavolias

University of California, Berkeley; Open Philanthropy

  • Sustainable Water Management

Stomata are small “mouths” on a plant that absorb carbon and result in water loss. In rice crops, water loss compromises performance and survivability, threatening food security. Optimizing stomatal density and physiology can increase water use efficiency without affecting crop performance. Karavolias is researching stomatal development and physiology to increase crop productivity in future climatic conditions.

Learn about Karavolias’ research

Sarah Kezar

Texas A&M University; Cotton Inc.

  • Next Generation Crops

Seedbank management, controlling weed escapes before and after crop harvest, can reduce herbicide-resistant weeds and improve the longevity of available herbicide tools. Palmer amaranth, an aggressive weed species, threatens crop production and profitability. Focusing on cotton production, Kezar is developing integrated strategies for minimizing seedbank addition from palmer amaranth escapes.

Learn about Kezar’s research

Renan Stefanini Lopes

Washington State University

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Close to 89 percent of the methane produced by livestock comes from the rumen of the animals through a group of microorganisms called methanogens. Stefanini Lopes is identifying key microbes in fermentation to decrease methane production.

Learn about Lopes’ research

Alison Lui

University of California, Berkeley; Syngenta

  • Next Generation Crops

Nanoscale engineering tools pave new opportunities for exploring plant biotechnology, genetic transformations and improving water retention in crops. Lui is analyzing fundamental theories of fluid flow and continuum mechanics to model the response of cells to external stimuli, such as engineered nanoparticles and nonpolar molecules.

Learn about Lui’s research

Jamila Mweta

Tuskegee University; College of Agriculture, Environment & Nutrition Sciences at Tuskegee University

  • Next Generation Crops

Cowpea is a nutritious commercial crop that contributes significantly to the global economy. Devastating viral diseases in cowpea threatens global food security and impacts the economy. Mweta is investigating the resistance of organically grown cowpea to viral diseases to determine efficient crop management strategies.

Learn about Mweta’s research

Echo Pan

North Carolina State University; CRISPR Lab at North Carolina State University

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Lactic acid bacteria, a group of probiotic organisms commonly found in dairy products, enhances lactose digestions and strengthens immune health. Pan is using CRISPR-CAS technology to characterize how lactic acid bacteria can engineer the next generation of lactobacillus-based vaccines for humans and animals and antimicrobials for food safety.

Learn about Pan’s research

Daniela Pezzini

North Carolina State University; Corteva Agriscience

  • Next Generation Crops

Bt crops, also known as bacillus thuringiensis, are a genetically modified bacteria that naturally produces toxins to protect crops from pests. Resistance evolution by insects threatens the success of Bt crops. Pezzini is studying the resistance of Helicoverpzea, a globally threatening pest, to Bt toxins expressed in corn. This research combines insect behavior and genetic data to evaluate the development of resistance.

Learn about Pezzini's research

Aaron Prairie

Colorado State University; General Mills

  • Soil Health

Soil health practices are essential for delivering a multitude of ecosystem services. Adoption of soil health practices in major corn and wheat producing states is alarmingly low. Prairie is analyzing management, soil and biodiversity data from 24 farms in Kansas to understand the mechanisms promoting soil health and management practices that facilitate them.

Learn about Prairie’s research

Abigail Roche

Case Western Reserve University; Margaret Wong & Associates, LLC, GBX Group

  • Urban Food Systems

Food systems and food security are complex issues involving dynamic interactions between physiological processes, societies, economies and the environment. Traditional, reductionist approaches do not capture unintended consequences or complex interrelationships between space and time. Roche is employing a community-based, system dynamics modeling method to relationships within the urban food system that characterize food security resilience and fragility.

Learn about Roche’s research

Manuel Sabbagh

University of Minnesota; Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council

  • Soil Health

Cover crops, especially grass species such as cereal rye, mitigate nutrient loss from soils. However, cover crop adoption rates are low in the cold upper Midwest due to the short growing season. Sabbagh is studying the impacts these management practices have on nutrient cycling and soil health and how that affects row-crop productivity.

Learn about Sabbagh’s research

Xiaonan Shi

North Carolina State University; BASF Agricultural Solutions

  • Next Generation Crops

Plant tissue culture and transformation is a critical step for plant breeding. Given its many advantages, such as long life, energy efficiency, low radiated heat and reliability, LED lighting is the future for plant tissue culture and transformation. Yet, little is known about the impact of LED lighting on the process. Shi is examining the effect of LED lighting intensity and spectrum on plant tissue culture and transformation.

Learn about Shi’s research

Simon Sretenovic

University of Maryland-College Park; Syngenta, Inari Agriculture

  • Next Generation Crops

Population growth, climate change and decreases in arable farmland increases the need for productive and resilient crop varieties. Conventional breeding approaches to increase yields of major crops, such as rice and maize, cannot keep pace with the speed of change. Sretenovic is developing precise genome editing technologies in plants to meet global needs.

Learn about Sretenovic’s research

Jeremy Sutherland

Pennsylvania State University

  • Next Generation Crops

Switchgrass is a leading biofuel feedstock for the emerging bio-economy. Soil microbes play a critical role in crop health and yield. Sutherland is leveraging deep-learning computational methods to improve breeding lines of switchgrass for desirable traits relevant to the US bioenergy market.

Learn about Sutherland’s research

Sara Tondini

University of Illinois; Arm and Hammer

  • Advanced Animal Systems

The fermentative capacity of enteric microbes allows ruminants to utilize lignocellulose material. This enables ruminants to transform fibrous feedstuffs, from land not suitable for growing human-edible food, into meat, milk, vitamins and minerals. Tondini is enabling precision management of the rumen microbiome to maximize the conversion of these fibrous feedstuffs, while minimizing the environmental impact of ruminant production systems.

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Lauren Whitt

University of Missouri; Bayer

  • Next Generation Crops

Gene discovery is crucial to developing next-generation crops. Yet, the majority of collective research is focused on a subset of genes, not due to their importance, but due to human biases in how we conduct science and discover genes. Whitt is creating an unbiased gene selection method for genome wide association studies.

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Year: 2019 - 2022

Alex Batson

Washington State University; Pop Vriend Seeds, Rijk Zwaan and Sakata America

  • Next Generation Crops

The maritime Pacific Northwest is the only region suitable for spinach seed production in the US. However, Fusarium Wilt, a fungus caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Spinaciae, limits the potential of spinach in this region. Batson’s research identifies and characterizes unique regions F. oxysporum f. sp. spinaciae to understand what makes spinach susceptible to this fungus.

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Linda Beckett

Purdue University; ADM

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Traditional corn-based diets fail to provide lactating dairy cows enough methionine and lysine, two essential amino acids. Without these nutrients, cows cannot reach their full potential for milk production. Beckett is determining the optimal combinations of feed for lactating dairy cows at several lactation stages and developing technologies to deliver these nutrients in a digestible form.

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Scott Cosseboom

University of Maryland; Maryland Wineries Association

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

The emerging grape industry in the US Mid-Atlantic is facing fungal diseases, which have not been well characterized. The lack of understanding is threatening yields of this increasingly important commodity. Cosseboom is examining the fungal pathogens causing these diseases to better understand and manage these diseases.

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Gwendolyn Donley

Case Western Reserve University; Stephen J McHale Family Foundation

  • Urban Food Systems

Massive resources have been invested into nutrition interventions, programs and policies. However, long-term, concrete changes in the target communities are few and far-between. Donley is reassessing nutrition programs, incentives and interventions through a systems lens. Donley’s research examines the effects of specific actions on the food system to understand where interventions have the greatest impact.

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Karlinton Flores

North Carolina State University; Nicholas Aviagen Turkeys

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Flores is working with poultry, manufacturing their feed, processing the birds and analyzing large data sets. Flores aims to prove that artificial intelligence tools can advance agricultural research and the poultry industry.

Learn about Flores’ research

Maria Gannett

Cornell University; American Vanguard Company

Weeds are an ever-present challenge for farmers, as they draw on the same nutrients the plants need. Current weed management strategies are overly reliant on chemical herbicides, which has led to an increasing number of herbicide resistant weeds. Gannett is researching alternatives to chemical weed control.

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Danielle Gelardi

University of California, Davis; Almond Board of California

  • Soil Health

Biochar, a charcoal-like substance created by burning organic agriculture material, is added to soil to enhance plant growth and reduce the need for water and fertilizer. Gelardi is investigating the effect biochar has on crop performance, environment and human health.

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Natalie Goh

University of California, Berkeley; BASF and the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation

  • Next Generation Crops

More advanced, scalable technology is needed to increase agricultural sustainability. Goh’s research is developing technology that delivers genes to plants to improve crop performance.

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Nate Korth

University of Nebraska; Neogen and the University of Nebraska Food and Health Center

The human gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi in the human body that contributes to both health and disease. Korth’s research is identifying components of agricultural products, with a focus on crop plants, that alter the state of the microbiome. Korth is characterizing bacteria associated with health traits to develop diet supplements that improve human health.

Learn about Korth’s research

Annemarie Krug

University of Illinois; Kellogg’s

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Probiotics are the bacteria that live inside our bodies and benefit health and prebiotics are the fiber that these probiotics eat to survive. Krug is analyzing changes in the GI microbiota, cognitive function, sleep quality, mental health and 24-hour urinary free-cortisol concentrations. This study expands the literature and knowledge about the role of prebiotics and probiotics in human health.

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Krista Marshall

University of California, Davis; Almond Board of California

  • Soil Health

Marshall is measuring how various management practices in 13 orchards influence water conservation, nutrient use efficiency, nitrogen cycling, soil structure, carbon accumulation and storage and soil microbial communities. This research improves knowledge of soil health in orchard systems.

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Miriam Martin

Kansas State University; Merck

  • Advanced Animal Systems

In the US, animal surgical procedures, such as castrations and dehorning, are often performed in ways that negatively impact animal welfare. Martin is investigating the role of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in controlling pain to assist veterinarians in administering pain control.

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Sihui Ni

North Carolina State University; Syngenta

  • Next Generation Crops

Meeting future global food production demand requires enhanced tools and technologies. Ni’s research is developing technology to increase long-term crop yield.

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Dhruv Patel

University of California, Berkeley; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Next Generation Crops

With the growing threats of climate change and diminishing natural resources, farmers must do more with less – and fast. Patel’s research is using genetic engineering to improve photosynthetic efficiency, improve water use and maximize crop yield.

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Kelsey Peterson

University of Minnesota; The Land Institute

  • Next Generation Crops

The sunflower-like perennial, Silphium integrifolium, which provides numerous ecosystem services, is losing its pest and pathogen resistance traits. Peterson is conducting a survey of the natural genetic variation of wild Silphium integrifoliu populations to assess where variation for pest and pathogen resistance exists.

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Innocent Ritte

Tuskegee University; BASF

  • Next Generation Crops

Cowpea is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop and a dry bean in semi-arid regions of the world. Cowpea productivity may be hindered by increasing temperatures and diseases. Ritte is identifying cowpeas with drought-tolerance and disease resistance to improve yields in a changing climate.

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Danielle Stevenson

University of California, Riverside; Corigin

  • Next Generation Crops

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on plant roots can improve yields, reduce the need for water and fertilizers and protect crops from pathogens. Stevenson’s research is addressing knowledge gaps preventing the fungi’s most effective use and application.

Learn about Stevenson’s research

Year: 2018 - 2021

Abigail Barker

Colorado State University; Valent USA

Weeds can cause up to 45 percent yield loss when left unchecked in a crop. Herbicides are often the most cost-effective weed control, but herbicide resistance reduces their effectiveness. Barker aims to understand herbicide resistance in weeds and develop recommendations for sustainable herbicide management practices.

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Lindsey Becker

North Carolina State University; Novozymes

Becker is examining the beneficial relationship between Mortierella elongate, a fungus that breaks down organic matter in soil and tomato plants.

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Francesco Cappai

University of Florida; Gourmet Blueberries Ltd.

  • Next Generation Crops

Blueberries are expensive because they must be hand harvested, which accounts for up to 90 percent of production costs. Machine harvesting blueberries can decrease costs by 60 percent, but machines only work if the berries are firm. Cappai is using new breeding techniques to develop blueberries that are machine harvestable to lower production costs.

Learn about Cappai’s research

Zachary Dashner

Pennsylvania State University; Mars Wrigley Confectionery

  • Next Generation Crops

Dashner aims to understand iron uptake from soil in cacao plants and improve farmers’ ability to grow crops in iron-deficient environments.

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Alison Deviney

North Carolina State University; Waste 2 Green, LLC

  • Advanced Animal Systems

One of the biggest challenges in manure management is identifying economically feasible methods of volume reduction. Deviney is concentrating nutrients into a storable and transportable product by removing up to 90 percent of the excess water. Her research improves manure management in livestock operations through nitrogen recovery and understand barriers to adoption of sustainable technologies.

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Jeremie Favre

University of Wisconsin-Madison; Perennial Agriculture Project, the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation and The Land Institute.

  • Next Generation Crops

Kernza is the grain of Intermediate wheatgrass and was bred to increase grain yield. While researchers are working on the basic agronomics of this crop, the decline in seed yield after the first production year has not yet been addressed. Favre is exploring best management practices to maintain Kernza seed yield.

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Ananda Portela Fontoura

Cornell University; Vetagro

Dairy cows develop metabolic stress when transitioning from gestation to lactation, which can cause metabolic disease. Heat stress can also compromise health in early lactation dairy cattle. Metabolic and heat stress in cows causes at least $1.5 billion in yearly economic losses. Fontoura is defining nutritional therapies to improve the metabolic health and productivity of dairy cows at the onset of lactation and when exposed to heat stress.

Learn about Fontoura’s research

Shelby Hoglund

University of Arizona; TAB AG Group

  • Soil Health

Composting recycles waste from landscapes, animals and food waste. Biochar is a product of recycling carbon-rich landscape waste. Hoglund studies the effects of compost and biochar on the water-holding capacity, nutrient availability and physical stability of dryland soils. This research aims to improve soil health, conserve irrigation water and improve agricultural productivity.

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Annie Krueger

University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Monsanto

  • Soil Health

The Monarch butterfly population is declining rapidly. Krueger is developing agricultural land management practices to improve the health of Monarch butterfly populations.

Learn about Krueger’s research

Morgan Mathison

Michigan State University; McDonald’s USA

  • Soil Health

Mathison is exploring how Adaptive Multi-paddock (AMP) grazing influences the health and wellbeing of farmers who adopt the practice

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Maci Mueller

University of California, Davis; Recombinetics

  • Advanced Animal Systems

The dairy cattle industry has widely adopted artificial insemination (AI), yet practical challenges have limited the use of AI in more extensively raised beef cattle systems. Mueller's research examines the potential for combining advanced breeding technologies, including AI, to improve the distribution of elite cattle genetics.

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Mary Ortiz Castro

Colorado State University; Colorado Corn Administrative Committee

  • Next Generation Crops

Bacterial leaf streak in corn is an emerging disease in North and South America. Recently, the disease has began infecting sweet corn, popcorn and grain corn in the US and Argentina. Ortiz Castro is developing solutions to combat bacterial leaf streak in corn by understanding the ecology of the disease and creating an integrated management program.

Learn about Castro’s research

Camilo Parada Rojas

North Carolina State University; The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

  • Next Generation Crops

In 2014, black rot reemerged, threatening sweet potato production in North Carolina and other US states. Sweet Potatoes are not resistant to this disease in part because cultural practices have managed black rot since the 1950s and breeding for resistance in sweet potatoes is a slow process. Parada Rojas is developing back rot-resistant sweet potato varieties.

Learn about Rojas’ research

Suneru Perera

University of Saskatchewan; POS Bio-Sciences

  • Next Generation Crops

Canary seed contains higher protein content than other commonly used cereals. This grain was approved for human consumption by the USDA and Health Canada in 2016 and is a potential plant-based protein source. Perera is exploring processing techniques to expand the uses of canary seed.

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Lovepreet Singh

University of Maryland; KeyGene

  • Next Generation Crops

Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), also known as head scab, is a devastating crop disease that reduces the yield potential in wheat and barley. Singh is examining the mechanism behind Fusarium Head Blight resistance in wheat and developing management practices to help mitigate this disease.

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Jaime Strickland

Michigan State University; Elanco

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Uncontrolled inflammation in dairy cows is associated with infectious and metabolic diseases. Strickland explores how micronutrients, like vitamin A and E, affects inflammation and immune function. This research aims to investigate the use of supplements to prevent disease, decrease antibiotic use and improve cow welfare.

Learn about Strickland’s research

Jiayang (Kevin) Xie

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Monsanto

  • Next Generation Crops

Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last few decades mean that the carbon dioxide concentration inside plants cells is now higher than is needed to achieve maximum rates of photosynthesis. By focusing on a plants’ photosynthetic abilities, Xie is increasing drought tolerance in plants through methods that do not decrease productivity.

Learn about Xie’s research

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