Thirteen public and private universities call for more federal investment in agricultural research

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WASHINGTON, DC (June 14, 2016)–Thirteen prominent research institutions in the United States 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 US agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.

"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."

Retaking the Field looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the US economy. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), 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 US trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.

Farming has never been an easy endeavor and today's challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues and US 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 Tom 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."

The Retaking the Field report profiles 13 groundbreaking science teams at premier public and private universities across the US. Highlights include:

Cornell University: David Just, PhD, figured out how to use the marketing strategies used to sell candy in grocery stores to get kids to make healthier choices in school cafeterias.

Iowa State University: Lisa Schulte Moore, PhD and Matthew Helmers, PhD, found that interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soy crops reduces nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, provides habitat for pollinators and improves water quality without significantly sacrificing production.

Kansas State University: Jason Woodworth, PhD, identified feed as a pathway for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) transmission for pigs and developed processes for preventing its spread.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Colette L. Heald, PhD, examined the synergy between climate change and air pollution. She calculated how crop adaptations to changing weather patterns are impacted by ground-level ozone.

North Carolina State University: Rodolphe Barrangou, PhD, uses the CRISPR gene editing technology to trace the precise routes that foodborne pathogens take from production facilities to consumers. He is also applying the CRISPR process to eliminate virulent strains of E. coli.

Purdue University: Phillip Owens, PhD, developed a process to integrate satellite data and landscape features with ground samples to create 3D maps of soil characteristics, which help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize production while conserving resources.

Stanford University: Elizabeth Sattely, PhD, uses a tobacco plant variety to manufacture a chemotherapy agent, which enables a potential means for producing less expensive and life-saving pharmaceuticals.

Tuskegee University: Woubit Abdela, PhD, Temesgen Samuel, PhD, and Teshome Yehualaeshet, PhD, developed a test for 25 strains of salmonella that can be done onsite in less than an hour instead of a two-week offsite process. They are also designing nanoparticles to remove food pathogens.

University of California, Davis: Bart C. Weimer, PhD, is using DNA sequencing to build a library of foodborne pathogens to assist health authorities around the world in controlling outbreaks.

University of Florida: Carrie Lapaire Harmon, PhD, developed an early detection lab for Florida's diversifying agricultural sector to identify emerging pathogens before they cause epidemics.

University of Illinois: Scott Irwin, PhD, produced a web portal that disseminates research and commodity analyses along with online tools that help farmers leverage new policies to improve their operations.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Suat Irmak, PhD, examines farm irrigation needs and determines which technologies are best suited for Nebraska crops. He established a network that saved 1.8 million acre-feet of groundwater–enough to refill the state's largest lake.

Washington University in St. Louis: Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, found that the impacts of malnutrition can be addressed by targeting the development of microbial communities in children's digestive tracts.

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About Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation

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.

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Dan Klotz
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