Rockey FFAR Fellows Program

FFAR Contact

Dr. LaKisha Odom

NC State Contact

Dr. Rebecca Dunning

We renamed the Rockey FFAR Fellows Program in honor of our Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey and her commitment to supporting young scientists. FFAR also 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 Rockey 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 Rockey 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 Rockey 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.

Rockey 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 Rockey 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 Rockey FFAR Fellow program? Learn more about the application process and eligibility requirements on the North Carolina State University website.

Advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals

Rockey 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:

Rockey FFAR Fellow Cohorts

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

  • Soil Health

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.

Learn about Tondini’s research

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.

Learn about Whitt’s research

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.

Learn about Batson’s research

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.

Learn about Beckett’s research

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.

Learn about Cosseboom’s research

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.

Learn about Donley’s research

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.

Learn about Gannett’s research

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.

Learn about Gelardi’s research

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.

Learn about Goh’s research

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.

Learn about Krug’s research

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.

Learn about Marshall’s research

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.

Learn about Martin’s research

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.

Learn about Ni’s research

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.

Learn about Patel’s research

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.

Learn about Peterson’s research

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.

Learn about Ritte’s research

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.

Learn about Barker’s research

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.

Learn about Becker’s research

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.

Learn about Dashner’s research

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.

Learn about Deviney’s research

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.

Learn about Favre’s research

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.

Learn about Hoglund’s research

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

Learn about Mathison’s research

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.

Learn about Mueller’s research

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.

Learn about Perera’s research

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.

Learn about Singh’s research

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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