Aug. 31, 2015
In July, members of the ASAS Public Policy Committee participated in a teleconference with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to discuss FFAR research target areas.
FFAR was authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, to fund food and agriculture research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance. Congress provided $200 million for the Foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds.
Following the teleconference, ASAS Public Policy Committee members submitted a letter of recommendations to FFAR Communications Officer Madeleine O’Connor. The body of the letter is as follows:
Dear Madeleine and FFAR Board Members:
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss FFAR research priorities during our teleconference on July 22, 2015. The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) supported the formation of FFAR and is very interested in working with FFAR to create robust and sustainable agricultural research programs.
A FFAR priority that has been mentioned is the creation of a prestigious award, which highlights the world-wide impact and importance of agricultural science. We are very supportive of this award and believe it to be one that can assist in raising much-needed awareness of agricultural research. We would like to offer a suggestion for your consideration, whereby the first award should be presented to someone who has made significant contributions to agriculture through the interdisciplinary research approaches that FFAR wishes to promote.
The ASAS membership spans the breadth of the research and development pipeline and includes scientists who conduct fundamental research on the cellular and molecular biology of livestock to scientists who conduct on-farm research that results in immediate impacts. As such, the research portfolio represented by ASAS is large and diverse but can be easily incorporated into the FFAR target areas of “more productive, sustainable agriculture” and “better health through food.” Additionally, ASAS supports the FFAR foundational principles of cutting-edge research and development, fostering collaboration, and building partnerships and human capacity.
After examining the FFAR target areas, ASAS asks you to consider the following points:
- Improving plant and animal efficiency – Sustainable agricultural systems must include enhanced resource use in both animal and plant efficiency and also must incorporate sustainability principles for the interaction of plant and animal systems. The inclusion of animals within this target area will encourage collaborations to create integrated food production systems that will positively impact both agricultural and human interests.
- We strongly agree that optimizing water use for food production is a critical research area in which immediate attention is necessary. It is also an area where collaborations and partnerships between public and private sectors can occur. For example, technologies currently used for industrial applications may be transferrable to agriculture, thereby creating new markets with immediate and visible research successes for FFAR.
- Transforming soil health is an area in which the interaction between plants (crops or grasslands found in pastures and rangelands), animals, and the ecosystem can be investigated. These integrated systems will create interdisciplinary partnerships to conserve soil moisture, minimize soil erosion, and enhance soil organic matter, while reducing energy use and over application of nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, grazing animals are an important component of soil health, and animal scientists would welcome the opportunity to work with plant and soil scientists to effectively and efficiently transform soil health. Long-term research commitments are needed to fully understand the dynamic relationship between agricultural systems and ecosystem services, and we support consideration of these long-term research investments.
- We strongly support the fourth FFAR research priority of “enhancing sustainable farm animal productivity, resilience, and health.” This priority will enable collaborations across animal production sciences, veterinary sciences, and plant sciences benefiting both stakeholders and industry partners.
- We would like to suggest the addition of a fifth FFAR research priority, which is to apply current and cutting-edge technologies to animal and plant production systems. As previously mentioned, there are technologies available in other industries that are not currently applied in agriculture. These technologies could make resource use more precise and efficient and is an excellent opportunity for academia and industry to build partnerships that would result in large and timely impacts.
- Animal scientists enthusiastically support the target area of “better health through food.” Enhancing the composition of animal-sourced foods to improve human health and prevent disease is an area of research that falls outside the individual missions of the USDA and NIH. Animal breeding/genetic selection of superior animals and altering animal diet composition to enhance the quality of animal-sourced foods for human health are current areas of research for which little federal or private sector funding is available. Production and delivery of animal-sourced bioactive compounds to promote human health or prevent disease are related areas in which additional research is needed. The “better health through food” area is one in which animal scientists are making progress and we support this initiative.
- The ability to study entire microbial communities of the gut and respiratory system of animals is an area of research that needs investment and is of considerable interest to the private sector. Research is needed to understand how to strategically alter the gut microbiome of animals to increase production efficiency (more rapid gain with fewer inputs), reduce the amount of manure and greenhouse gases that are released into the environment, and control respiratory disease (the most costly disease in the cattle industry). A better understanding of how the microbiome of the gut and respiratory tract interacts with the host genome is also needed.
- Collaborations between animal and social scientists are needed to understand the impacts of public perceptions regarding animal well-being in various animal production systems. For example, how consumers make decisions regarding their purchases of animal-sourced foods and how animal well-being or animal production systems affect food consumption behaviors and human health are important interdisciplinary research areas that need further investigation.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment regarding future FFAR research priorities. In addition to the details provided above, ASAS endorses the following documents:
- ASAS Grand Challenges (Animal Health, Climate Change, Food Safety, Food Security, Animal Well-Being, Water Quantity and Quality, and Training the Future Workforce) (https://asas.org/membership-services/public-policy/asas-grand-challenges)
- Critical Role of Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/19000/critical-role-of-animal-science-research-in-food-security-and-sustainability)
- Farm Animal Integrated Research (FAIR) 2012: a national forum to establish priorities for animal agricultural research, education and extension activities (https://www.asas.org/membership-services/public-policy/asas-summary-of-fair-2012)
Best wishes for success in achieving the mission of FFAR!
ASAS Public Policy Committee
Dr. Kris Johnson, Chair