AGree’s Perspective on the Pursuit of a “Unifying Message” for Food and Agricultural Research

The views presented in these blogs are those of the authors.

The public conversation around prioritizing and re-invigorating U.S. agricultural research investments recently took some promising strides forward. On December 5, I had the pleasure of attending a release event held for the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation’s and Iowa State University’s recent report: “Pursuing a Unifying Message: Elevating Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Research as a National Priority,” developed in partnership with Mississippi State University, Soil and Water Conservation Society, Texas Tech University, and Colorado State University. As Lowell Randel, President of the Riley Memorial Foundation, noted during his introductory remarks, the report offers both a call to action and an invitation to think more broadly about the nature of and the need for food and agricultural research.

During the event, AGree Co-Chairs Dan Glickman and Jim Moseley were joined by other thought leaders, including Jo Handelsman of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Chuck Fry of the Maryland Farm Bureau Federation, Chris Policinki of Land O’Lakes, Janet Collins of DuPont, Eric Hentges of the International Life Sciences Institute, and Jay Akridge of Purdue University. Their clear, inspiring voices expressed a shared commitment to building a compelling, unified case for elevating food and agricultural research as a national priority. Their words were well-received by an audience comprised of USDA’s Catherine Woteki and Chavonda Jacobs-Young along with representatives from multiple public and private universities, the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), and the Association of American Universities (AAU).

It’s no secret that U.S. investments in food and agricultural research have waned disproportionately in recent years, falling far behind those allocated to general scientific and medical research. The National Institute of Health boasted a 2012 research and development budget of $30.9 billion, nearly 13 times that of USDA. The medical community deserves this generous investment – medical research has the potential to save and transform countless lives, delivers an impressive return on investment, and benefits our lives in one way or another every day.

However, food and agricultural research is similarly critical. And its importance is overlooked far too often.

Food and agricultural research and innovation ensure the prosperity of our farmers and ranchers – but that is not all. They help ensure the health of our children and families, our community’s future food supply, our national security, the long-term health and functioning of our working lands and ecosystems, U.S. global economic and technological competitiveness, and national economic growth. The need for increased investments in agricultural research and innovation touches all areas of our food and agriculture system, and in this way, cuts across all of AGree’s Initiatives, from International Development to Food & Nutrition.

The new “Pursuing a Unifying Message” report also suggests important shifts in research funding priorities that could help address the complex issues facing all facets of our food and agriculture system; in addition to increasing investments, we must utilize resources to maximum public benefit. Increased competitive grant funding could encourage public-private research partnerships that address emerging societal issues, including climate change, water scarcity, and nutrition. Moreover, research processes that engage a range of stakeholders could help ensure that new information and innovations are applicable and available to producers and other research users.

I left the release event energized by the strong commitment to advocating for re-invigorated public food and agricultural research investments. AGree will release consensus recommendations for our Research & Innovation Initiative in early 2015, and much of what will be shared echoes messages conveyed by “Pursuing a Unifying Message.”

By strategically assembling and leveraging our diverse voices, we can make a strong case for change. As the recent Riley Memorial Foundation and Iowa State University report emphasizes, successful advocacy will require a “unifying message.” It is time for us to set aside our differences and work towards a common goal that will benefit all of society for years to come.

AGree looks forward to helping to catalyze a diverse advocacy coalition that can create a compelling case for increased and re-prioritized public food and agricultural research investments – one that resonates with researchers, policy-makers, and the general public. The time is ripe for action, and we look forward to being involved.

More information about the “Pursuing a Unifying Message” effort and the full report are available here.