Hannah Birgé, Ph.D., Chosen as a Recipient of a New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award

Birgé is one of nine selected by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

Hannah Birgé stands in front of a rock outcropping under a pinkish sunset sky.
Hannah Birgé, Ph.D. Hannah Birgé © photo courtesy Hannah Birgé

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The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced last week the recipients of the New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award, an award granted to early career scientists supporting research in one of FFAR’s Challenge Areas.

Scientists in the early years of their careers often have difficulty pursuing innovative research due to the pressure of securing funding. “Our New Innovator Awardees are pursuing creative, audacious research to overcome challenges to our food and agriculture system. Thanks to these awards, they have one less hurdle to achieving pioneering results,” said Lucyna Kurtyka, FFAR senior scientific program director. Birgé’s award is $170,333.

Meet Hannah Birgé

Soil scientist Hannah Birgé is director of agriculture for The Nature Conservancy’s Nebraska program. She leads a team of experts who work with farmers and researchers to implement on-farm solutions—like adoption of cover crops, no-till and crop diversification practices—that deliver both economic and environmental benefits. 

“Hannah’s research to better understand what drives cover crop adoption will not only help deepen our connection with farmers, it will also help achieve goals for soil health, water quality and quantity, and climate resiliency."

Director of Agriculture for TNC North America

Birgé’s Research

A promise of big data is the ability to better understand and predict relevant social-ecological phenomena. However, modern machine learning and statistical analyses of big data often fail to embed the human context needed to uncover and predict these phenomena more fully. In this project, Birgé reframes the challenge of predicting cover crop adoption on working farms as social-ecological, rather than strictly technical. To do this she is engaging farmers to create regression trees—a type of decision-making algorithm—that describe individual farm-level decisions to adopt cover crops. These regression trees can then be tested using large, remotely sensed biophysical datasets. By eliciting farmer expert knowledge in this way, Birgé can improve the efficacy of big data to predict not only when and where cover crops are likely to be adopted on the landscape but also why.

Learn more about FFAR and the other recipients here.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.