Apr 6, 2021
New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Awardees named by FFAR

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced April 6 the recipients of the 2020 New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award, an award granted to early career scientists supporting research in one of FFAR’s six Challenge Areas.

Cumulatively, the recipients are receiving a total of $3,503,992 over three years. Although matching funding was not required for this program, several recipients receiving matching funds from their respective institutions for a total $4,174,475 investment.

According to a news release, FFAR’s New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award provides early career scientists with funding to conduct audacious food and agriculture research. Investing in these scientists in the early years of their careers allows them to pursue innovative and transformational ideas uninhibited by the pressure of securing funding for their next grant.

“FFAR is proud to foster the pioneering food and agriculture research of the 2020 New Innovator awardees,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “Because the New Innovator Award provides significant funds, it provides an excellent foundation for scientists pursuing bold scientific breakthroughs. By investing in their research today, we are ensuring a future sustainable food and agriculture industry.”

The following individuals are the 2020 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award recipients:

 Jose Pablo (JP) Dundore-Arias, California State University, Monterey Bay

Soil-borne diseases pose a significant threat to global food production, causing catastrophic yield and economic losses. Dundore-Arias’ research is determining the ecological and molecular mechanisms responsible for inducing and maintaining disease-suppressive soils. Dundore-Arias is using this information to develop microbial communities capable of enhancing soil health and plant productivity.

Christopher Hollenbeck, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi/Texas A&M AgriLife Research

Oysters are a particularly sustainable source of animal protein, but the process of breeding oysters for desirable traits is still in its infancy. Hollenbeck’s research is enhancing selective breeding of oysters by developing new tools and strategies to address barriers to genomics-based breeding. Results of the research will help increase productivity and sustainability to benefit the oyster aquaculture industry in the US and around the world.

Mengjun Hu, University of Maryland

Late-season bunch rots are fruit diseases that occur during maturation, after season-long expenses and labor, and directly affect yield and quality. Hu’s research is advancing knowledge about late-season bunch rots by studying the prevalence and ability of the pathogen to cause disease, the conditions and time in the growing cycle favorable to the pathogen and the pathogen’s reactions to fungicide. The research is developing sustainable management strategies that promote targeted and less frequent application of fungicide.

Robert Jinkerson, University of California, Riverside

Urban agriculture offers many benefits for food production but often has higher production costs relative to traditional farming and is limited to only a few crops. Jinkerson’s research is engineering the size and nutritional value of a tomato plant variety to increase both the diversity and value of crops that are grown in vertical controlled environment agriculture, making urban agriculture more profitable.

Chase Mason, University of Central Florida

Plants face a wide variety of threats from pests and pathogens, yet for many such threats there is no simple genetic source of full resistance in the plant immune system, necessitating growers’ reliance on pesticides. Mason’s research is determining the genetic control of induced chemical defenses, a mechanism by which plants produce chemical compounds to protect themselves upon detecting harmful pests or pathogens. Mason is also identifying sources of enhanced forms of this protection in a variety of species to reduce reliance on pesticides.

Haly Neely, Washington State University

Soil compaction diminishes soil health and damages soil ecosystems, leading to lower crop yield and decreased resilience in the face of climate change. Neely’s research is mitigating soil compaction, which occurs when soil particles are pressed together making soil less healthy and resilient, by measuring and mapping compaction with a newly developed visible and near-infrared spectroscopy tool. Neely is linking these measurements to soil ecosystem components such as crop yield and using these findings to improve growers’ knowledge of soil compaction mitigation strategies.

Davina Rhodes, Colorado State University

Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional disorders worldwide and is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children under the age of five. Rhodes’ research is integrating plant breeding, cereal chemistry and nutrition to develop sorghum grain with high concentrations of carotenoid, plant chemicals that help combat vitamin A deficiency. This approach could be used as a model for biofortification efforts in a broad range of nutrients and crops.

Mohit Verma, Purdue University

Bovine respiratory disease is an ailment that causes annual losses of almost $1 billion dollars to the beef cattle industry. Verma’s research is producing a rapid biosensor diagnostic test that detects viruses that cause bovine respiratory disease, delivering these results in less than 30 minutes. This test will guide veterinarians and cattle producers to the best methods for prevention and treatment of the disease. Results of the research will include less use of antibiotics, reduced losses from the disease, increased quality and productivity of beef cattle and improved animal welfare.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda.

FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

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