New Project to Increase Soybean Yields by Harnessing Photosynthesis

Sep 21, 2017

Information provided by FFAR.

A new project aims to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food and sustainably increase worldwide food productivity.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, is contributing $15 million to a five-year, $45-million research project at the University of Illinois that has boosted crop yields 20 percent by improving photosynthetic efficiency. The American Soybean Association (ASA) supported the creation of FFAR, because of projects like this one, and FFAR’s commitment to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation and partnerships that are so critical to keeping America’s agricultural economy moving forward.

FFAR joined co-funders the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), and government and agricultural leaders at the University of Illinois in Champaign to announce the investment and see the transformative research firsthand.

The project, Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or RIPE, will harness a plant’s photosynthesis process to increase output, or yield, in food crops including soybeans, cassava and cowpeas. Photosynthesis is how plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow. The $45 million reinvestment in RIPE supports this critical, ongoing research meant to break through the stagnant yield ceilings for several staple food crops, providing farmers around the world with another tool to enhance global food security and their own livelihoods.

“The RIPE project has proven that photosynthesis can be redesigned to increase crop yields by at least 20 percent without additional resources,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey, Ph.D. “FFAR is proud to support this innovative leap toward reducing global hunger, an issue that often seems intractable in the face of a growing population, changing climate, and limited natural resources.”

Researchers anticipate commercial seeds benefiting from this research will be available to farmers within approximately 15 years. RIPE and its funders will ensure their high-yielding food crops are globally available, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, and affordable for smallholder farmers to help feed the world’s hungriest and reduce poverty. Agriculture has been shown to reduce poverty four times more effectively than growth in other sectors.

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