Federal Investment in Agricultural Research is Essential for US Farmers to Stay Competitive; FedByScience—Universities Telling Stories of Discovery—Launches Alongside 2018 Farm Bill
China Has Outspent U.S. on Agriculture Research for the Past Decade;
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Joining National Initiative to Turn the Tables
A new effort to boost federal investment in agricultural research—FedByScience—launched in Washington, D.C., bringing together the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) with 15 other public and private universities.
The initiative, timed with the release of the 2018 House Farm Bill, focuses on demonstrating to the public and policymakers the many ways that USDA-funded universities and researchers are creating a safer, healthier and more productive food system.
FedByScience launched with two briefings for Senate and House of Representatives staff. The effort tells stories in which scientific discoveries and innovations have improved the way food is produced and distributed.
UF/IFAS has contributed much to this initiative, including citrus and vegetable research. As examples, UF/IFAS researchers:
- Have found that a morning glass of orange juice may eventually come from mandarins that are tolerant to citrus greening.
- Have discovered an early plant- and crop-disease detection system for Florida’s diversifying agriculture sector.
- Are also trying to find ways to develop seedless watermelons that are resistant or tolerant to soil-borne diseases such as fusarium wilt.
- Have used genomics to help trace the roots of citrus to the Himalayan region 8 million years ago. With the new research, scientists can now work with more citrus genomic information. This is especially relevant now that the citrus industry is reeling from the devastating citrus greening disease.
“Access to safe, nutritious food and a healthy environment is a fundamental human right. The need for healthy food will only grow as we look to the future. There is no issue of greater importance for our experts in the agricultural and food sciences and few more deserving of federal support” said Kathryn Boor, PhD, FedByScience co-chair and The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“U.S. farmers are confronted by turbulent commodity markets, extreme weather, and an uneven economy,” said FedByScience co-chair and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, PhD. “A stronger investment in agricultural research can provide the science and innovation that farmers need to navigate these obstacles. Universities are now joining together to ensure that our stories about the value of food and ag research are heard.”
The agriculture and food production industries are facing considerable challenges today. For instance, Florida’s orange growers have been decimated by citrus greening disease, which has shrunk production every year for the past five years. A recent report from the National Academies concluded that, in the past 13 years, citrus greening has gone from a brand new disease to a chronic, long-term burden spread throughout Florida. As a result, Brazil has gained an increasingly larger share of the market while US farmers still have no answer for the bacteria that causes the disease.
Such challenges can only be addressed through additional research, yet the U.S. agricultural research budget has declined in real dollars since 2003. The U.S. has been second to China in total public agricultural research funding since 2008; in 2013, China’s spending on public agricultural R&D became nearly double that of the U.S.
“As researchers, we consider it our job to provide real world solutions,” said Lisa Schulte Moore of Iowa State University, whose water quality research in the Midwest is also featured on the new initiative’s website. “But solid science and training the next generation of problem-solvers requires additional investment into our nation’s future.”
Dr. Schulte Moore and her colleagues, supported by USDA grants and other funding sources, examined a set of problems confronting corn and soybean farmers—soil and nutrient retention, especially during rainstorms—and engineered an improbable solution: interspersing strips of native prairie vegetation throughout the crop rows. Her team estimated that the prairie strips solution could be used on 9.6 million acres of cropland in Iowa and a large portion of the 170 million acres under similar management in the United States.
“There is so much that federally funded food and agriculture research has accomplished, but these stories need a broader audience,” said Thomas Grumbly, President of the SoAR Foundation, which organizes FedByScience. “We are delighted to collaborate with our university partners to make this initiative a reality.”
Participating universities include Colorado State University, Cornell University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, Purdue University, Texas A&M University, University of California at Davis, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Washington University in St. Louis.
By Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences