The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the 17 inaugural recipients of the 2018 FFAR Fellow award. One of these awardees is Francesco Cappai, a Ph.D. student in the plant molecular and cellular biology program at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“The future of agriculture relies on training a strong scientific workforce,” said FFAR executive director Sally Rockey. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support the next generation of food and agriculture researchers and I am excited to see how the FFAR Fellows will grow through this program.”
The FFAR Fellows Program pairs students with academic and industry mentors to help build professional skills. Cappai was named a professional development fellow. He will use the FFAR Fellow award to participate in a three-year interdisciplinary education program.
“This award will allow me to transition smoothly to the industry once I finish my Ph.D.,” Cappai said. “As an Italian citizen, establishing new contacts in a different country is difficult. I believe this award will allow me to establish those contacts for future job prospects. This program will help me to learn more about myself and discover what the best career fit for me will be.”
As part of the program, graduate students from across the U.S. gathered at North Carolina State University for a weeklong course designed to prepare them for successful careers in food and agriculture science.
The $2.7 million FFAR grant was matched by a consortium of industry leaders dedicated to preparing the agricultural workforce to optimize impact on the future of agriculture science. A team at North Carolina State University managed the application process.
John Dole and Rebecca Dunning of North Carolina State University commented on the FFAR Fellows: “Selected from over 100 wonderful applicants, the 17 FFAR Fellows are an impressive group of Ph.D. students who we know will have a lasting effect on food and agriculture. The FFAR Fellows program will give them the tools and training to hit the ground running and make an impact from day one in their future positions.”
Cappai’s research uses new breeding techniques to develop blueberries that are machine harvestable, which would lower the costs of production. His industry sponsor is Gourmet Blueberries.
“I would say that my two main passions in life are research and eating,” Cappai said. “I’m so thankful to work on research that allows me to do both!”
Cappai came to UF because of his interest in the land-grant history of UF and the applied perspective the plant molecular and cellular biology program has for research. After graduation, Cappai’s goal is to work in the field of plant breeding for a private company before transitioning into a position that would allow him to work in the space between government agriculture regulations and plant companies. His desire to improve research environments and entrepreneurship came from working with the Italian government on agriculture regulations.
“I love working with plants because I think seeds are the definition of a miracle,” Cappai said. “These tiny particles need a little bit of care, sun, water and fertilizer to turn into these fantastic creatures!”