August 27, 2018

National Academy Releases Report on Food and Agricultural Research to Meet World Food Demands in the Next Decade

National Academy Releases Report on Food and Agricultural Research to Meet World Food Demands in the Next Decade

By Larry Reynolds, ASAS Public Policy Committee member and Taking Stock contributor

The National Academies Press recently released a Consensus Study Report entitled, “Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030,” prepared by the Committee on Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research.

The report suggests that despite the fact that scientific advances in the last century have enabled U.S. Agriculture to lead the world in agricultural production, in the coming decades “… agricultural production worldwide will have difficulty keeping up with food demands of the world’s growing population.

The report further suggests that “Sustainably achieving a higher level of productivity will require: (1) new approaches for leveraging capabilities across the scientific and technological enterprise; (2) breakthroughs that could dramatically increase the capabilities of food and agricultural science; and (3) increased investments in the tools, equipment, facilities, and human capital to conduct cutting-edge research in food and agriculture.

The report also recognizes that “… stresses on the U.S. food and agricultural enterprise [in the coming decade] are unlikely to be resolved if business as usual prevails.” In that context, the Committee identified “… five breakthrough opportunities that could dramatically increase the capabilities of food and agricultural science, and recommended building significant research efforts around them,” as follows:

  1. Transdisciplinary science and systems approaches should be prioritized to solve agriculture’s most vexing problems;
  2. Create an initiative to more effectively employ existing sensing technologies and to develop new sensing technologies across all areas of food and agriculture.
  3. Establish initiatives to nurture the emerging area of agri-food informatics and to facilitate the adoption and development of information technology, data science, and artificial intelligence in food and agricultural research.
  4. Establish an initiative to exploit the use of genomics and precision breeding to genetically improve traits of agriculturally important organisms.
  5. Establish an initiative to increase the understanding of the animal, soil, and plant microbiomes and their broader applications across the food system.

To achieve these “five breakthrough opportunities”, the report concludes that:

  1. Investments are needed for tools, equipment, facilities, and human capital to conduct cutting-edge research in food and agriculture.
  2. The Agricultural Experiment Station Network and the Cooperative Extension System deserve continued support because they are vital for basic and applied research and are needed to effectively translate research to achieve impactful results in the food and agricultural sectors.
  3. Current public and private funding for food and agricultural research is inadequate to address critical breakthrough areas over the next decade. If a robust food system is critical for securing the nation’s health and well-being, then funding in both the public and private sectors ought to reflect this as a priority.
  4. Efforts to renew interest in food and agriculture will need to be taken to engage non-agricultural professionals and to excite the next generation of students.
  5. A better understanding of linkages between biophysical sciences and socioeconomic sciences is needed to support more effective policy design, producer adoption, and consumer acceptance of innovation in the food and agricultural sectors.

The good news is that the report recognizes the critical need to prioritize research in food and agricultural systems to meet the world’s rapidly expanding population, which will affect the U.S. as well. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will increase from its current 329 million to 359 million by 2030 and nearly 400 million by 2050.1 Despite the population increase, which will put further pressure on our ability to achieve food security, public funding for U.S. Agricultural R&D has fallen in the last decade, putting the U.S. behind China and the rest of the developed nations in terms of public spending on Ag R&D.2

The Report and Highlights are available on-line from the National Academies Press and are free.

The report and highlights documents were prepared by the Committee on Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research, which comprised the following individuals:

John D. Floros (Co-chair), New Mexico State University; Susan R. Wessler (NAS) (Co-chair), University of California, Riverside; David B. Allison (NAM), Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington; Corrie C. Brown, University of Georgia; Lisa Goddard, Columbia University; Mary Lou Guerinot (NAS), Dartmouth College; Janet Jansson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Lee-Ann Jaykus, North Carolina State University; Helen H. Jensen, Iowa State University; Rajiv Khosla, Colorado State University; Robin Lougee, IBM Research; Gregory V. Lowry, Carnegie Mellon University; Alison L. Van Eenennaam, University of California, Davis; and from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: Peggy Tsai Yih (Study Director), Maria Oria (Senior Program Officer), Amanda Purcell (Associate Program Officer), Keegan Sawyer (Senior Program Officer), Robin Schoen (Board Director), Toby Warden (Board Director), Yasmin Romitti (Research Associate), Jenna Briscoe (Research Assistant), and Erin Markovich (Research Assistant).

Citations:

1

2014 National Population Projections Tables – https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2014/demo/popproj/2014-summary-tables.html (last accessed 26-Aug-18).

2 Public funding of U.S. ag R&D falls, along with U.S. ag research productivity. Taking Stock 2016 – https://www.asas.org/taking-stock/taking-stock/2016/12/22/public-funding-of-u-s-ag-rd-falls-along-with-u-s-ag-research-productivity (last accessed 26-Aug-18).