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Secretary Vilsack Announces USDA and FFAR Innovation Challenge to Catalyze Agricultural Solutions

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2024 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) today launched a global challenge to advance scientific research that will produce major breakthroughs for nutrition security while mitigating climate change impacts and advancing equity for underserved communities. The “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs” (Innovation Challenge) funding opportunity will fund transdisciplinary teams led by early-career scientists (those who have received a Ph.D. within the past ten years) to catalyze new discoveries and mobilize transformative research that simultaneously tackle our most important societal challenges.

This competitive Innovation Challenge will spark high-risk, high-reward research through innovations at the intersection of nutrition security, equity and justice, and climate-smart agriculture. With a focus on the next generation of research, this opportunity emphasizes providing resources to support highly creative and highly promising early-career researchers. USDA and FFAR will award up to $2 million to successful applicants across multiple teams who propose a compelling vision for how their research can support sustainable food production, promote human health, and reduce inequities while enhancing real-world nutrition security.

“Through this Innovation Challenge, USDA and FFAR are investing in researchers who are sources of disruptive ideas and breakthrough solutions in agricultural science,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA recognizes that investing in transdisciplinary science is necessary to strengthen our nation’s agrifood systems and we are committed to supporting innovative problem-solvers that harvest hope through ingenuity to better nourish our people and our planet.”

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement during Harvesting Hope: USDA’s Agrifood Innovation Symposium, an interactive, science-focused event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. The Symposium, hosted in partnership with FFAR, featured innovation showcases and lightning talks on transformative scientific solutions made possible by USDA investments to enhance collective efforts towards a more nutritious, sustainable, and equitable agrifood system.

“During this Symposium we want to spur innovative ideas, spark new collaborations and inspire scientific solutions led by early-career scientists,” said Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. “We want to create a space where great minds come together to solve the most audacious challenges facing us in agriculture.”

The Innovation Challenge invites eligible researchers from domestic and international higher education institutions, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and government-affiliated research agencies to propose projects that advance disruptive approaches and technologies in alignment with USDA’s Science & Research Strategy, 2023 - 2026: Cultivating Scientific Innovation (S&RS) (PDF, 21.4 MB) and FFAR’s Research Strategy. Climate, nutrition security and equity are often seen and addressed as three distinct challenges, but this new Innovation Challenge asks teams to see these problems as interconnected. The $1 million share of funding USDA is providing for this opportunity comes from funding Congress appropriated to the Office of the Chief Scientist.

“Investing in the next generation of food and agriculture scientists is a cornerstone of FFAR’s mission. The Innovation Challenge is a unique opportunity for early career scientists to lead interdisciplinary teams and pursue bold research to advance U.S. food and agriculture,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Saharah Moon Chapotin. “We are thrilled to partner with the USDA on this joint funding opportunity that aims to produce major food and agriculture breakthroughs related to human health, climate change and social equity.”

Innovation Challenge applications are due Monday, July 29, 2024. For more information about the Challenge and to start the application process, you may visit the following page: USDA/FFAR Innovation Challenge page. You may also view the Zoom registration page to register to attend the June 13, 2024, USDA/FFAR webinar for prospective applicants that will offer detailed information about the application and selection process.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit

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 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’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. Connect: @FoundationFAR


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