Published on 12/19/18

UGA professor receives 2018 New Innovator Award

By Merritt Melancon, Sarah Goldberg

Jason Wallace, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), has received one of nine 2018 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Awards from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).

The New Innovator Award provides the early investment needed to successfully launch a scientific career in food and agriculture. Award recipients were selected based on a number of criteria including scientific merit, innovation and a demonstrated commitment to mentoring other young scientists. 

FFAR has awarded $292,000 to Wallace, a researcher in the CAES Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, an amount that will be matched by funding from UGA. Wallace will use the award to fund his study of how crops are affected by the microbes that live inside them, referred to as the “microbiome,” and how the environment impacts this relationship. 

This work will help researchers understand how microbes affect crop production and how they can be harnessed to improve agriculture. This new funding will allow his lab to scale up experiments to test hundreds of corn varieties for how they are affected by microbes, sample corn growing at dozens of locations across the U.S., and “breed” microbes that improve corn growth. 

“There’s a ton of potential in using microbes to improve agriculture,” Wallace said. “Although we know a lot about crop diseases, we know very little about the microbes that help plants. Understanding how plants work with beneficial microbes will help us make agriculture both more efficient and more sustainable.” 

FFAR will invest $2,332,051 over three years in the work of the nine recipients, with matching funds from the award recipients’ respective institutions doubling FFAR’s investment for a total of $4,675,795.

These grants allow early-career faculty members to spend less time applying for grants and more time working on creative research that has an impact on agriculture, said Sally Rockey, executive director of FFAR. The New Innovator program invests in the next generation of scientists committed to changing the way food is grown, processed and distributed. 

“FFAR New Innovators also are terrific mentors for the next generation of food and agriculture scientists who will follow them,” she said.

A full list of the researchers receiving FFAR innovator awards this year can be found at

FFAR, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. Leveraging public and private resources, FFAR will increase the scientific and technological research, innovation and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. Established by the 2014 Farm Bill, FFAR is governed by a board of directors chaired by former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and with ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Learn more at

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

Food and Agriculture Research Projects

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