December 28, 2015

ASAS submits input to OSTP

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December 28, 2015 – Earlier this month, ASAS submitted input to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in response to its request for information on agricultural innovation. Dr. Deb Hamernik spearheaded the response on behalf of the ASAS Public Policy Committee. Many thanks to Dr. Hamernik for coordinating the response to OSTP!

The purpose of the OSTP request for information is to discover new ideas that will spur innovation in agriculture and food systems and raise the profile of agricultural research. Here is a copy of the input, which was submitted electronically.

ASAS Response:

Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP)

Request for Information (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-11-05/pdf/2015-28289.pdf)

“Identifying Sources of Agricultural Innovation”

December 4, 2015

  1. Over the next ten years, what are the most important research gaps that must be addressed to advance agricultural innovation?
  • The American Society of Animal Science endorses the recommendations in the 2015 National Academy of Sciences report on Critical Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability.
  • Advances must be made in understanding fundamental biological mechanisms that underlie physical phenotypes, particularly in food animals. Despite tremendous advances in molecular biology and genomics, much remains unknown about the biological mechanisms responsible for species-specific phenotypes that range from disease susceptibility to regulation of milk and muscle-related growth characteristics.
  • Using genome sequence information to enhance sustainable intensification of production of animal sourced foods while minimizing inputs and environmental impacts. The primary need is for increased efficiency of producing and processing animal sourced foods in a sustainable manner. Improved reproductive efficiency and feed efficiency are key to increased production efficiency as well as improved product uniformity and distribution to ensure a safe food supply.
  • Development of management strategies and animal populations that enable animal production to mitigate and adapt to climate variability and use water in a sustainable manner are essential.
  • Improving soil health/fertility through the use of integrated crop and livestock management systems. The need is to optimize the beneficial components of animal manure on soil health/fertility while minimizing undesirable components of animal manure (e.g., pathogens) on the environment.
  • Understanding consumer attitudes, behaviors, and decisions regarding production, purchases, preferences, and consumption of animal sourced foods, and how consumers talk about livestock production with their friends and family members.
  • Apply current and cutting-edge technologies to animal and plant production systems. Technologies are available in other industries that are not currently applied in agriculture. These technologies could make resource use more precise and efficient and are an excellent opportunity for academia and industry to build partnerships that would result in significant and timely impacts.
  • The target area of “better health through food” involves modifying the composition of animal-sourced foods to improve human health and is an area of research that falls outside the individual missions of the USDA and NIH. Optimization of food animal health and productivity for protection and enhancement of human health is essential. Genetic selection of superior animals or 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 also require additional research.
  • Research is needed to understand how to strategically alter the microbiome of animals. A better understanding of the gut microbiome will increase production efficiency, 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. Effective strategies are needed for intervention and control of foodborne contaminants throughout the food production chain to reduce pathogens and foodborne illnesses, and ensure a safe food supply.

 

  1. What interdisciplinary agriculture and food programs successfully impact agricultural innovation?
  • Food for Health: Integrated studies of animal sourced foods (production, processing, quality, safety, security) and human health/disease (with basic studies on the role of genomes/epigenomes/microbiomes)
  • Transforming soil health is an area in which the interaction between plants (crops, grasslands, pastures, range lands), 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.
  • Enhanced funding in areas of basic science dedicated to food animal species
  • Expansion of dual-agency funding opportunities (e.g. NIH-USDA dual use funding)
  • Interdisciplinary programs at land grant universities that connect agricultural research with basic science fields
  • Private/foundation programs, USAID, public/private partnerships, corporate efforts that fund data based agricultural improvements in the US.

 

  1. What elementary, middle, and high school outreach programs are successful examples of introducing students to agricultural careers, and what are examples of effective ways to introduce agriculture to suburban and urban students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)?
  • 4-H and FFA programs have long been highly successful at introducing students to agriculture
  • The World Food Prize Youth Institute encourages students to think about global agricultural issues
  • Students with STEM interests should be introduced to opportunities in food and agriculture
  • Development of standards-based K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curricular resources that integrate agricultural and natural resources topics into core subject areas has been an effective way to introduce students to agricultural careers as well as introduce agriculture to suburban and urban students interested in careers in STEM.
  • Interventions focused on enhanced curricular and instructional experiences for students in formal, informal and non-formal settings; professional development for in-service teachers; and teacher education experiences for pre-service teachers are effective ways to integrate agriculture in the PK-12 curricula. Specific examples include:
  1. Connecting the Dots: An interactive career exploration simulation program is designed to help 9th grade students learn more about careers in the ag industry as well as how to “connect the dots” from 9th grade through postsecondary study to the workplace, specifically in careers related to agriculture and food systems.
  2. Animals Inside and Out: An educational program designed for 3rd through 5th Grade Youth to learn more about Animal Science. Specifically, youth will gain a knowledge and understanding of the livestock industry, youth will develop science skills and understand the importance of science in food production, and youth will become aware of careers related to animal science.

 

  1. How can colleges and universities recruit STEM undergraduates into agricultural disciplines? What effect, if any, do introductory courses that engage students in discovery-based research have for this purpose?
  • Partner with Extension programs to help bring potential students to campuses to engage with faculty.
  • Concurrent credit programming (college-level courses, experiential learning opportunities, research experience) linked to agriculture for high school students.
  • Students in STEM disciplines should be recruited into agricultural fields, and exposed in early undergraduate survey courses to the value and importance of using “cutting edge science” to address agricultural topics and research problems.
  • Introductory courses, and opportunities for early undergraduate research should have tremendous impact. In particular, all aspects of the importance and value of fields that ensure food safety and food security should be elevated so that students clearly understand the significance of these areas for overall national security and human health and wellbeing. Use agricultural models to teach biological concepts in introductory life sciences courses.
  • Undergraduate curricula should teach students how STEM disciplines are critical for advances in all areas of the production and distribution of safe and nutritious foods. Prepare undergraduate students with the knowledge and skills to analyze complex, real-world problems from a systems perspective to make informed decisions regarding current and emerging food, energy, and water issues, and the interrelatedness of agriculture, natural resources, and society. Undergraduate degree programs in animal science should be linked to career opportunities in STEM.
  • Faculty development to better engage students of diverse demographics and backgrounds may also improve student recruitment into agricultural fields.

 

  1. What resources are fundamental to addressing agricultural research needs?
  • Sufficient research funding to support basic research, specifically dedicated to food animals is critical for significant, data-supported, scientific advances.
  • Appropriate animal resources to enable basic and applied research, including farms that mimic real-world production conditions, animal populations, and research laboratories with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.
  • Databases that are available to the public and contain high quality, assembled, and annotated livestock genome sequences, deep phenotype data, and other information for major animals and microbes used for food production.
  • 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 how animal well-being or animal production systems affect food consumption behaviors and human health are important interdisciplinary research areas that need further investigation.

 

  1. What further training is needed among agricultural professionals to take advantage of advances in agriculture research?
  • Integrated training programs that provide students a breadth of experience in life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and analysis of large datasets. Training and real-world experiences in communicating science to the public and policy research/analysis are also needed.
  • Opportunities for training and continuing education, increased extension and outreach programs for adult education.

 

  1. Is there any additional information, not requested above, that you believe OSTP should consider in identifying crucial areas of agricultural research?
  • All aspects of basic and applied science related to the production, processing and consumption of animal sourced foods must be enhanced.
  • Agriculture – namely safe and sufficient food production must be elevated as a need of critical importance for overall health and wellbeing. These areas are fundamental for human health and existence. Demonstrating their value will help recruit bright students into these areas.