With Farm Bill negotiations in Congress well underway, policymakers are exploring ways to support America’s farmers and ranchers. The U.S. agriculture industry is a global leader in feeding families but faces many challenges and risks including new diseases and pathogens in plants, supply chain issues, invasive species and water management. The Farm Bill can help the U.S. agriculture industry address these challenges by supporting research and development through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).
Established in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is a program that focuses specifically on the domestic research gaps relating to food and agriculture. FFAR helps promote the availability, nutrition, and affordability of food for all Americans by leveraging public and private sector dollars.
Each project funded through FFAR must have private sector funding that matches public spending. This collaboration system allows FFAR to push the envelope on agricultural innovation and create rational solutions to real problems. Federal funding going towards agriculture research has been in decline for the last two decades, and the private sector is a leader in agriculture R&D. Rather than having to rely solely on federal appropriations cycles, the public-private partnership provides more opportunities to fund research and development while getting more stakeholders involved. This funding mechanism also allows the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to offer grants for research opportunities and scholarships to support the next generation of agriculture scientists.
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FFAR has 6 separate research categories each dedicated to delving into different types of food and agriculture spheres. They fund pioneering research related to soil health, sustainable water management, next-generation crops, advanced animal systems, urban food systems, and the health-agriculture nexus. Each category has its own research vision and goals. For example, advanced animal systems strive to improve animal health and welfare, environmental sustainability, and pest and disease management.
There is a great emphasis on innovation and collaboration to help solve some of the major challenges farmers and ranchers face and to support the producers and suppliers who work to feed the nation. For example, an FFAR Seeding Solutions grant led to the research and understanding of why dairy cows do not produce as much milk in warm conditions. Through this breakthrough, scientists created a solution to avoid the loss of milk in warmer climates.
In addition to helping dairy cows produce more milk in warmer weather, FFAR has many breakthroughs that speak to its success in all the given research categories. For instance, an FFAR grant and matched funding from Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) allowed for the development of the Eco-Harvest Program which rewards producers for their regenerative agriculture practices.
FFAR is an essential program to promote new and innovative solutions to food and agriculture problems. The world population is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 and the agriculture industry needs to be prepared to produce enough healthy food to keep up with the rising numbers. The research and development that comes out of FFAR does not only work to supply Americans with healthy, affordable food, it seeks to help producers manage their environmental footprint.
As populations rise in the United States and abroad, producers will need to find innovative ways to meet demand while continuously adapting to the effects of climate change. The establishment of new agriculture research and development programs and support of existing ones like the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research will ensure that the United States remains the leader in food production and sustainable agriculture for years to come.