Eight partners pool resources to bolster crop breeding toolbox

Public/private partnership under FFAR launches multimillion-dollar international effort to accelerate development of crops.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 farm bill, joined with Bayer, Biogemma, KWS, FAPESP, Precision PlantSciences, Rijk Zwaan and CIMMYT to launch the Crops of the Future Collaborative, a new consortium that will accelerate crop breeding to meet global food demand 20-50 years in the future. FFAR's initial $10 million commitment is expected to leverage significant additional investment from partners. 

With the world population projected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, the Crops of the Future Collaborative will accelerate crop breeding through an innovative, public/private model that pools proprietary knowledge, financial resources and technology to carry out crop-specific research initially focusing on maize, leafy greens, wheat and small grains. The consortium will hone in on how a crop's genetic information can yield traits needed to meet global nutritional demands in a changing environment. Participants will see their investments multiplied by a "one-to-many" matching model.

"The new Crops of the Future Collaborative brings together the resources of leading agriculture companies and research organizations to meet future food system challenges," said Dr. Sally Rockey, FFAR executive director. "We enthusiastically welcome the initial Crops of the Future Collaborative partners who share the foundation's vision for increasing public/private collaboration and global investment in food and agriculture sciences."

This collaboration will accelerate discoveries in ways not possible in the past by building on recent advances that have greatly enhanced scientists' ability to study and improve specific crop traits. Recent progress includes advances in gene editing, crop genome sequencing and phenomics, or the study of the relationship among a plant's genetic makeup, its environment and its performance.

"This collaborative research with public and private partners will build on investments already made in agriculture research so that farmers like me see the return on those investments through improved plants in our fields," said Pam Johnson, past president of the National Corn Growers Assn. and a member of the FFAR board.

The new consortium will increase capacity to breed crops with specific traits in order to produce plants that are adapted to different environments. Target crop characteristics might include enhanced nutritional qualities or the ability to withstand environmental challenges such as drought, heat or flooding. Ultimately, knowledge generated by the collaborative will be publicly available through scientific publications and informational platforms, benefiting public and private crop breeding efforts.

"Rijk Zwaan is keen to actively contribute to the world's food supply and stimulate vegetable consumption," said Dr. Kees Reinink, managing director of Rijk Zwaan. "Joining the Crops of the Future Collaborative, with leafy vegetables as one of the focus crops, can help us achieve this mission. Combining our strengths with partners in (research and development) is an important part of our strategy. Together, we can accelerate the further development of better vegetables."

"As a founding partner, Precision PlantSciences is particularly pleased to begin working with our fellow Crops of the Future Collaborative organizations," Precision PlantSciences president Dr. Fayaz Khazi said. "Together, we will solve problems like how to pair new ideas with the most relevant technologies, and this will help us all create products that are not just better but game changing -- even life changing. Through participation in the Crops of the Future Collaborative, Precision further solidifies its commitment to this community and to translating scientific knowledge into products that improve the health of our planet and all its inhabitants."

FAPESP scientific director Dr. Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz noted, "At FAPESP, we are happy to be part of the Crops for the Future initiative to foster research in agricultural topics of great relevance for Brazil and the world. Working together with outstanding partners such as FFAR and other agencies, we expect to advance the pace of discovery."

"Joining the Crops of the Future Collaborative is a great opportunity to increase our collective knowledge of traits and genes function to greatly accelerate development of crops in a sustainable way," said Dr. Alain Toppan, chief executive officer of Biogemma. "Understanding traits is a major target in Biogemma and its shareholders' global strategy to develop efficient crop solutions."

"Solving the challenges farmers face worldwide in growing healthy, abundant crops in a sustainable manner will require commitment and collaboration from experts around the world," said Dr. Catherine Feuillet, senior vice president of Bayer's Crop Science division. "With the Crops of the Future Collaborative, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research provides a unique framework to develop public/private collaborations for accelerating innovation that can propel the next Green Revolution for major crops, and Bayer is proud to support it."

Organizations interested in joining the Crops of the Future Collaborative are encouraged to contact FFAR.

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