Executive director sets high goals for Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

Sally Rockey, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research executive director

Sally Rockey, the first executive director for The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR),  assumed her new role in September and has high hopes for the new foundation.

Before joining the National Institutes of Health as deputy director for extramural research, she worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for many years.

Rockey told Crop Protection News that FFAR is charged with creating partnerships with like-minded organizations to launch leading-edge programs, and fund groundbreaking research to address challenges in food and agriculture.

The USDA said the foundation was created to increase research, innovation and partnerships that will boost America’s agricultural economy. FFAR was established as part of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) and acts as a nonprofit corporation. Congress provided $200 million for the foundation and mandated that every dollar the foundation spends must be matched.

“It’s expected through partnerships and fundraisers to raise another $200 million,” Rockey said.

While the task of raising $200 million may be difficult, Rockey identified a few challenges facing agriculture.

“We’re going to have to feed the world,” Rockey said. “We’re going to have to adapt to technology and create a sustainable system that protects the environment while being productive.”

In addition, there are various policy hurdles the agricultural industry faces.

“Agriculture is local – every state and county has different regulations, and producers have to deal with those plus federal regulations,” Rockey said. 

She added there are environmental and social policies that affect multiple levels of the agricultural systems.

“There are many environmental policies that play heavily into our ability to use specific technologies,” she said.

Rockey has a substantial amount of experience in the research field and is excited to help lead FFAR in its initial years.

The foundation is planning to launch competitive programs and is calling for input from innovators, pioneers and scientists.

“We’re looking for creative ideas,” Rockey said. “We want to identify partners we can work with in order to have the program available.”

Rockey’s blog on FFAR's website (foundationfar.org) said the foundation has outlined seven research topic areas they are hoping to engage with community members on potential research questions and programs. Those seven research topic areas are improving plant efficiency; optimizing agricultural water use; transforming soil health; enhancing sustainable farm animal productivity, resilience and health; achieving a deeper understanding of nutrition and healthful food choices; managing food production systems to enhance human nutritional outcomes; and spurring food system innovation.

In November, the foundation launched two inaugural programs – the New Innovator Program and the Rapid Response Program.

The New Innovator Program will fund up to 10 individuals early in their faculty careers to pursue research on one or more of the FFAR topic areas.

The Rapid Response Program is aiming to address the immediate issues facing the agriculture and food systems.

Those interested in participating in the programs or sharing ideas are encouraged to check the foundation’s website.