Small fresh produce growers often face challenges with moving their highly perishable crops into distribution channels, but Arizona State Professor J. Rene Villalobos wanted to change that while also increasing grower profits by 20-30%. Armed with a $963,513 grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and $1.9 million in matching funds from Arizona State University and New Mexico State University, his team has done just that.

According to FFAR’s latest Impact Report, Villalobos' team “established a platform for efficient, rapid-response supply chains” that enable small growers – more than 10% of whom are minority farmers –  to service a significantly higher portion of the market for fresh produce. “This research is delivering a roadmap to help small farmers participate in direct-to-consumer produce channels such as Amazon Fresh, Instacart or Walmart Grocery,” the report noted.

That's just one of many research projects highlighted in FFAR's annual report, which detailed the most recent outlays and matching funds from private companies, organizations and universities. In 2022, FFAR leveraged $128 million in public and private funds, awarding 68 grants for critically important food and agricultural research.

Of that amount, $46 million was FFAR funding and $82 million was matching funding from partners. Some of the largest partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Kroger Co., McDonald's, Open Philanthropy Project, PepsiCo, Syngenta, The Nature Conservancy, Waverley Street Foundation and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. 

Research grants focus on the following challenge areas: soil health, sustainable water management, advanced animal systems, next generation crops, health-agriculture nexus and urban food systems. Climate-smart research, an estimated 40% of total research projects, is also funded through FFAR’s AgMission initiative.

FFAR Executive Director Dr. Saharah Moon Chapotin said the research investments are having an impact and always prioritize stakeholder concerns and needs. “This year’s report details how FFAR’s research partnerships have benefited coffee farmers in Hawaii, helped fruit and vegetable farmers reach new markets and demonstrated how alternative grazing practices enhance farm productivity and sustainability,” she said in an email to Agri-Pulse.

“Some public agriculture research can yield results in the first few years, though most agricultural research investments require a decade or longer to realize full benefits,” the report said. “These investments are worth the wait as the resulting research can secure the global and U.S. food supply, increase farmer profits, lower costs for consumers, address market challenges, improve animal health and wellbeing, deliver more nutritious crops, build resilience and provide significant environmental benefits."

On average, USDA's Economic Research Service has calculated that public agricultural research spending generates $20 in benefits to the U.S. economy for every dollar spent

FFAR is looking to diversify its stakeholder base and make changes to support academic grantees. FFAR matches every federal dollar with a dollar from a non-federal source. Academic institutions represent 70% of grantees to date, but as of 2022, they are the source of only 17% of total matching funds.

           It’s easy to be “in the know” about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! Simply click here.

The foundation allows universities to now count salaries as a “cash” match. In addition, FFAR expanded which costs can be designated as “direct costs” to support academic institutions in meeting their match requirements.

“FFAR has made it a priority to reduce the reliance on ‘applicant match’; for example, by securing matching funds from companies or foundations prior to releasing a solicitation," the report said. "This year, a significant portion of FFAR programs have not required applicants to secure their own matching funds."

In 2022, FFAR made several big changes, including hiring Chapotin as executive director and expanding its board of directors. With new leadership, the foundation laid the groundwork to "refresh our research strategy.”

At last week’s annual Public Conversation, Chapotin shared “how extensive stakeholder consultations have shaped our new research priorities as we work towards a more resilient and productive food and agriculture system.”

Since being established in the 2014 farm bill and awarding grants since 2016, FFAR has awarded a total of 307 grants with a matching ratio of $1:$1.40. In total, over 550 funding partners have participated with a total of $605 million since the establishment.

For more news, visit