AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University and 10 other research universities have joined the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation to call for stronger federal support of the food and agricultural sciences.
Their new report, Retaking the Field — Strengthening the Science of Farm and Food Production, explores research projects funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at each institution.
“Iowa is a perennial powerhouse of agricultural production, a key economic driver for our state that depends on science,” said Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean of Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The Retaking the Field report is a great example of universities joining in a common message calling for increased federal investment in food, agricultural and natural resources research. These are critical resources that help ensure we more sustainably produce food, energy and everyday materials, as well as protect plant, animal and human health, while conserving our environment so it’s productive far into the future.”
“The drought in federal funding of food and agricultural research still exists,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation. “USDA’s AFRI program, the agency’s premier source of competitively awarded grants, generates the science that keeps our farms healthy. But farmers need a flood of research breakthroughs, and AFRI’s limited budget only allows for a trickle.”
The new report outlines Iowa State research led by Hongwei Xin and colleagues, who developed adaptations for cage-free egg production systems that improve indoor-air quality and allow more farmers to respond to consumer demand by adapting cage-free systems.
“We want our discoveries to help the industry better cope with the environmental challenges while trying to meet the increased demand,” said Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Iowa Egg Council endowed professor. “We need to find the best production system that will accommodate the chickens’ natural behaviors and welfare, protect workers, minimize environment impact and still keep the price of eggs from skyrocketing.”
The new Retaking the Field report — the second in SoAR’s series — shows how scientists are solving some of the thorniest questions in food production despite the USDA’s limited research budget. Even as the research budget for all federal agencies has climbed, USDA’s share has nearly been cut in half.
Grumbly of SoAR notes that AFRI’s funding levels illustrate this trend. The program, which was first established in the 2008 Farm Bill, currently receives only half of its authorized level of $700 million. As a result, the rate in which proposals for AFRI funding receive approval hovers just above 10 percent, far below the rates found in European countries and elsewhere.
“Researchers are solving some of the most important problems that farmers face,” added Grumbly, “from Bovine Respiratory Disease, which infects more than one out of every five beef cattle in feedlots, to rice and wheat rust, which keeps evolving to overcome scientists’ efforts to breed resistance. Too often, their success hinges on whether they secure enough funding to keep the lab doors open. Too much top quality, high-impact research is unfunded and left on the cutting room floor.”
The other research teams profiled in Retaking the Field include:
About Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Iowa State University’s agricultural programs are ranked among the top 10 worldwide. The Agriculture Experiment Station, administered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is Iowa’s only public agricultural research program and has served the state more than 125 years. Agricultural scientists generate innovations, technologies and solutions to needs in food security, human health, economic development and environmental stewardship. Research expenditures were $120 million in 2015-2016 by scientists supported by the College and Agriculture and Life Sciences and Agriculture Experiment Station. Over the past eight years, Iowa State’s agricultural researchers have brought in $400 million in external funding. Science-based information reaches every county in Iowa through ISU Extension and Outreach and ISU research and demonstration farms guided by local stakeholders. Last fall, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences set its fifth consecutive annual enrollment record. The college’s 27 undergraduate majors prepare students for careers spanning the study of food, agriculture, natural resources, energy, climate, nutrition and science and technology.
About the SoAR Foundation
The SoAR Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition representing more than six million farming families, 100,000 scientists, hundreds of colleges and universities as well as consumers, veterinarians, and others. SoAR educates stakeholders about the importance of food and agricultural research to feed America and the world and advocates for full funding of USDA’s Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI). SoAR supports increased federal investments to encourage top scientists to create agricultural solutions that improve public health, strengthen national security, and enhance U.S. economic competitiveness.