By Amanda Huber, Editor
“Nine billion people are expected to inhabit Planet Earth by 2050. Without agricultural research, there is little hope of sustaining this population surge, given that arable land and water supplies are fixed commodities. Yet for decades the agricultural sector has suffered from neglect. If we want to combat new strains of pests that destroy crops, find new crop varieties enriched in nutritional value, improve yields, develop resistance to disease and drought and provide environmentally sensitive cultivation practices, then agricultural research must be a priority. Why isn’t it?” wrote Donald Kennedy, president emeritus at Stanford University, in an editorial in the journal Science.
The editorial was sent to me and others from the Senior Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida, Jack M. Payne. Vice President Payne went on to say that most public-funded university research is provided with federal dollars through a competitive grants process where scientists compete to have their studies funded. Although there are other “pots” of federal dollars for research, the big three are the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with a $31 billion budget, the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a $6 billion budget and the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) with a $400 million budget.
As a matter of explanation, NIH provides grant dollars to solve cancer, heart disease and many other medical issues. NSF funds basic science questions, such as the composition of comets. “AFRI funds the studies that will keep our agriculture successful, competitive and find the answers to the problems that will arise in feeding and providing energy and shelter to the more than nine billion people in 40 years,” Payne says.
With so little being applied to the agriculture research pot compared to other research areas and unless more is invested, how long will our universities be able to sustain all of the agriculture departments we depend on now? Will keeping agriculture viable to our university presidents and boards become similar to educating our Congress members, who are so far removed from the farm, about the importance of agriculture? With this in mind, anything less than complete support for the work of our researchers and universities could become the foothold detractors need to eliminate agriculture departments in favor of medical or general science.
Kennedy finished his editorial with this, “The much-needed revolutions in agriculture can only come about through the investments that we make now. Nine billion people will, we hope, reap the benefits of today’s wise decisions.”
In the basic necessities of life, what comes first? Food. Without it, nothing else matters.