Purdue University is among 13 U.S. research institutions in the United States joining the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation in calling for a “new surge” in federal support of food and agricultural science. “Retaking the Field,” a report released by the coalition known as SoAR, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how it believes that U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors. “Publicly supported research is critical if we are to meet the grand challenge in front of us – the need for more food, energy and other products from agricultural feedstocks, produced in a more sustainable way, using even fewer natural resources, in the face of a changing climate,” said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture. “And, given lags between when research is initiated and when the knowledge generated by that research makes its way into the hands of farmers and the broader food sector, we need to be investing now to maintain a globally competitive agricultural sector.”
The report looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.
The coalition said even though every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades and that the U.S. today trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding. “Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of SoAR. “However, the science behind agriculture and food production is starved of federal support at a time of unprecedented challenges. A new surge in public funding is essential if our agricultural system is going to meet the needs of American families in an increasingly competitive global market.”
Groundbreaking projects “Retaking the Field” profiles groundbreaking projects at the 13 public and private universities across the U.S. At Purdue, agronomy professor Phillip Owens developed a process to integrate satellite data and landscape features with ground samples to create 3D maps of soil characteristics, which help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize production while conserving resources.
“I am privileged to be at a land-grant university like Purdue where I can interact with scientists in multiple disciplines, embracing and enhancing creative research that has implications for those who use it,” Owens said.
Farming has never been an easy endeavor, and today’s challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues, and U.S. production is also threatened by new pests and pathogens such as the 2015 avian influenza outbreak that led to the culling of 48 million birds in 15 states and $2.6 billion in economic damages. “Every year, the director of national intelligence testifies before Congress that our national security is threatened by hunger in unstable regions,” Grumbly said. “As the number of people on our planet continues to grow, we must produce more food. This cannot be done with yesterday’s science. We need a larger infusion of cutting-edge technologies.”