AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University is one of 13 prominent research institutions in the United States that joined the SoAR Foundation today in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. Retaking the Field, the report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.
“We need to think differently about how we call for a common message in support of making food, agricultural and natural resources research a higher national priority,” said Wendy Wintersteen, Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. “The Retaking the Field report illustrates the kind of innovative research ongoing at our universities and the benefits possible for the public good if the nation invests more in this critical area of research.”
Retaking the Field 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. 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. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.
In the Retaking the Field report, Iowa State researchers Lisa Schulte Moore and Matthew Helmers outline efforts to protect soil and water by interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soybean crops. The practice of STRIPS — Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips — helps to improve water quality by reducing sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff without sacrificing row crop production. The practice also provides habitat for pollinators. The Leopold Center is one of the funders of the STRIPS project.
“Farmers respond to data,” said Schulte Moore, an associate professor of natural resource ecology and management. “It’s our job to provide them with the best possible information for managing their fields to meet a variety of goals. Our next step is to work with additional farmers and partners in Iowa and beyond to implement the practice and monitor results.”
“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 the SoAR Foundation. “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.”
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, like 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,” said Grumbly. “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.”
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The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition working to educate stakeholders about the importance of agricultural research and focus more of our best minds on feeding America and the world. SoAR advocates for full funding for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) to encourage top scientists from multiple disciplines to address agriculture related challenges in order to improve public health and strengthen our economic competitiveness.