THE President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST) released a new report on Dec. 7, "Agricultural Preparedness & the Agriculture Research Enterprise," that addresses the scientific challenges facing the nation's agricultural research enterprise and calls for more competitive research grants and a network of public/private agricultural institutes to address pending challenges.
PCAST's recommendations to President Barack Obama encompass how to refocus and rebalance the federal investment in agricultural research to enable farmers to meet the critical challenges facing U.S. agriculture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA).
In the report, PCAST calls for increased public investment in agricultural research to enable the creation of an innovation ecosystem for agriculture that combines public and private research and development efforts to most efficiently meet both the short- and long-term dimensions of the challenges, NIFA said.
The council further recommended that USDA make some important changes in the way it administers research funds, specifically expanding competitive opportunities for intramural and extramural research to create opportunities for new business ventures funded by the private sector and to provide the means to train the next generation of farmers and agricultural researchers.
According to a statement from the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), the report represents an important analysis of the public and private agricultural research structure and current levels of investment.
"We are pleased that PCAST focused on the unique challenges and goals of the agriculture research enterprise," Ellen Bergfeld, chief executive officer of the three organizations, said. "The PCAST report highlights just how critical agriculture research is to ensuring food and energy security in the U.S. and the world."
ASA/CSSA/SSSA added that the report concludes that the current agricultural research portfolio is not adequately prepared to deal with emerging challenges in the U.S., such as food safety and sustainability.
"The sober analysis concludes that neither the national research structure nor funding levels are adequate to meet the increasing environmental and economic constraints and demands on crop production," PCAST working group participant Tom Sinclair, adjunct professor with North Carolina State University, said. "The report reaches the clear conclusion that leadership must come from Congress, USDA and land-grant universities."
The report recommends increasing federal support for agricultural research by $700 million per year, with PCAST specifically recommending raising National Science Foundation funding for basic research relevant to agriculture from $120 million to $250 million in fiscal 2014 and raising the current level of funding for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative to $500 million.
In regard to preparing the next generation of the agricultural science and technology workforce, the report recommends expanding fellowships for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.
PCAST is an advisory group of the nation's leading scientists and engineers appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House, from Cabinet departments and from other federal agencies.
The PCAST report is at www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/pcast.