WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2016 – Sally Rockey marked her first year as executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research by putting out the call for “revolutionary” ideas that can help farmers feed a world population that’s expected to swell beyond 9 billion by mid-century.

Rockey, who formerly ran the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health, said FFAR, which was authorized in the 2014 farm bill, has until recently been busy establishing itself, listening to the agriculture community, working with USDA partners and setting up a few smaller programs, “but now we’re ready to go.”

“I think we’re in a good place now,” Rockey said in an interview following a meeting of FFAR’s board of directors in Washington. “Now we can really go hard on the research.”

Earlier, Rockey, a former chief information officer at USDA, told attendees at a public meeting that FFAR is looking to help fund research into seven “challenge areas,” including reducing food waste, promoting healthy soils, the threat posed by water scarcity and overcrowding, and promoting urban food systems. FFAR will provide half the funding out of the $200 million it was authorized in the farm bill, with backers of a project providing the other half.

“This has to be done in partnership,” Dan Glickman, FFAR’s board chairman and a former U.S. agriculture secretary, said at the meeting. “We can’t just give it away.”

FFAR has already taken some steps to help spur what Glickman called “transformative change” in agriculture, including establishing a $100,000 prize for a mid-career scientist for work in food and agriculture research. The prize is endowed by FFAR and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The inaugural prize winner will be announced in January. And in late summer FFAR helped bring together more than 170 scientific experts for a conference on plant phenotyping at Purdue University.

Just last week, the Foundation launched its Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, making available up to $150,000 in matching funds per one-year grant to combat new or emerging pest and pathogen outbreaks that threaten the U.S. food and agriculture systems. Last year, avian influenza outbreaks caused the loss of an estimated 50 million birds nationwide and $1 billion in damage in Iowa alone. ROAR is designed to accelerate initial research and outreach response to potential emergencies by pre-establishing teams of experts, agreements, and funding sources. 

The Foundation today also announced the appointment of six new board members, including former American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. Also named to five-year terms on the board were: Doug Cameron, managing director of First Green Partners; Carl Casale, president and chief executive officer of CHS Inc. and a former executive vice president and chief financial officer for Monsanto Co.; Gail Christopher, senior adviser and vice president at W. K. Kellogg Foundation; Mehmood Khan, M.D., vice chairman and chief scientific officer of global research and development at PepsiCo.; and Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations.


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