WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 -- The board of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR), created by the 2014 farm bill, is meeting for the second time this week in Washington, shortly after which it will seek an executive director. Matt McKenna, senior adviser for FFAR, gave an overview of the board’s progress at a Farm Foundation Forum panel on agricultural research last week.

USDA announced the foundation’s 15-member board in July. Congress provided $200 million for the foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds as it identifies and approves projects. McKenna said the board has the “opportunity to create a voice for agricultural research and solicit contributions from the public and private sector.”

The foundation is still working on its strategy, McKenna noted, but it plans to recruit an executive director after its next meeting.

FFAR is modeled after a similar medical research foundation funded through the National Institute of Health and is the first of its kind for the sector. According to the Global Harvest Initiative, NIH invests $15 to every $1 invested by the USDA for research and development.

During the Farm Foundation Forum, Steven Rhines, general counsel at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, said the agricultural sector should further imitate the medical fields with organizations that leverage private wealth.

“The opportunity to leverage private wealth serves as greatest opportunity for this sector to expand,” he said, noting that most philanthropic donations in the agriculture sector go to individuals’ alma maters instead of targeting a specific agricultural problem.

“In the next 50 years, almost $100 trillion will change hands” he said. “These folks are in our sector, have a passion for soil, plants and animals. If they don’t have a place to put their money, they won’t.”

Rhines advocated the creation of agricultural research organizations similar to 501(c)(3) nonprofit medical research operations. Before that can happen, Congress must modify the tax code, which “is not easy,” he said.


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