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1 Vision and Leadership Worldwide changes are transforming American agriculture into an endeavor focused not only on efficient food and fiber production but also on improving public health, social well-being, and the environment. Recent scientific break- throughs will make it easier for agriculture to achieve its potential for delivering a wide array of benefits to society. But for that vision to be realized, the agricul- tural research system must take advantage of new opportunities and new partner- ships and must have the leadership to address the complex and varied roles of agriculture in the 21st century. Over the last century, the primary public need addressed by US agriculture has been food and fiber production, and the major focus of agricultural research has been on maximizing the productivity of agronomically important crops and livestock. The success of that endeavor has been substantial as demonstrated by such productivity gains as the tripling of corn yields over the last 50 years (USDA, 2002b) and an increase in overall productivity by 2.5 times during the last 50 years (Figure 1-1; USDA, 2000) end bythelow average percentage (10.2%) of consumer income spent on food in the United States (USDA, 2002a). Scientific discoveries in plant and animal genetics, plant and animal nutrition, and livestock health and effective application of these discoveries in production systems- have driven those gains. At the same time, important shifts in public attitudes have broadened the scope of agricultural research to include goals related to the environment, human health, and communities. Changing public attitudes and needs will create new market opportunities and will alter agriculture' s relationship to the food and fiber system, the environment, and the fabric of American society. The increasing pace of scientific discovery and technology development will revolutionize 15
16 150 - 100 Frontiers in Agricultural Research 1948 = 100 250 - 200 - Productivity , At' I_ . Am' '4~. '' Output \ Inputs . ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' 1 ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' 1 ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' 1 ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' 1 ' ' ' ' ' ' ' - 1948 1958 1968 1978 1988 FIGURE 1-1 Growth in agricultural productivity, output, and inputs, 1948-1996. Source: USDA (US Department of Agriculture). 2000. Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators. Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture. Available online at http://www. ers. usda.gov/Emphases/Harmonyfissues/arei2000/. agriculture's capabilities. We identify here some key changes unfolding today, their implications for the direction of research administered by the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) agencies of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the need for strong leadership to manage and lead change effec- tively. CHANGING PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND NEEDS Participants in American agriculture now operate in a highly competitive global economy. Globalization has changed the nature of agricultural products and the system that produces them. Trade liberalization provides great opportu- nities for expanding US agricultural markets overseas, but it also allows aggres- sive competition from overseas producers. There is increased public sensitivity to and awareness of global social and economic challenges, including population growth, food insecurity, and poverty. Operating in this competitive environment
Vision and Leadership 17 will require greater flexibility, improved management and decision-making, and continued advances in agricultural productivity. A key challenge for agricultural research will be to balance the continued need for productivity and efficiency gains with emerging demands for new products and for environmental and social services. There is continued tension between a realignment of agriculture's benefits in food safety, nutrition, conservation, and so on, and primary incentives to continue increasing production, sometimes at the expense of other priorities. That is clear from the large increases in agricultural subsidies in the 2002 farm bill (US Congress, 2002~. As discussed in Chapter 4, the fact that the actual budget distribution across program areas does not align with stated objectives for budget distribution is consistent with the lack of incentives to move from the status quo. The number and diversity of products yielded by the global agricultural sys- tem are expanding rapidly, and the products now include pharmaceuticals and other health-promoting foods. Even within the traditional food and fiber sector, more items are sold today than ever before, including an increasing number of value-added products. Changes in consumer preferences related to shifts in demography, affluence, global demand, and education levels account in part for that trend. Consumer acceptance of "functional" foods foods whose compo- nents are associated with good health and decreased disease risk and include dietary supplements or "nutraceuticals" has made such foods the subject of a significant trend in the food industry (Childs, 2001~. The result is a convergence of the global food and pharmaceutical industries that is creating a new "agriceutical" industry composed of multinational public and private entities and focused on human health and nutrition. Never before has the linkage between agriculture and public health been more apparent, vital, or promising. The new research agenda will need to expand its role and resources to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity. For example, the growing public interest in food safety reflects awareness of this linkage (Unnevehr and Roberts, 2002~. The incidence of foodborne illnesses in America is rising. The increased frequency of eating away from home (USDA, 2001b) and changing food-consumption patterns have enabled the emergence of and exposure to new pathogens. In addition, an increasing percentage of the population is becoming susceptible to opportunistic infections, including food- borne pathogens, given the rising percentage of the US population over 65, a growing number of persons infected with HIV, and the growing numbers of recipients of bone marrow or organ transplants and patients receiving chemo- therapy or immunosuppressive drugs (CAST, 1994; USDHHS,1998~. Increased movements of animals, people, and products are introducing new and unfamiliar risks into the food system. Epidemiologic evidence suggests that some kinds of animal production systems including operations with higher animal densities and mechanization systems that disperse feeds, water, and other inputs and out- puts may increase human exposure to infectious disease. About 75% of new
18 Frontiers in Agricultural Research human pathogens over the last few decades have originated in or been transferred through livestock, poultry, and wildlife, including the bovine spongiform encephal- opathy prion, Salmonella enteritidis, and Escherichia cold 0157:H7, demon- strating the continued importance of animal sources in the transmission of so- called emerging pathogens (Tauxe, 1997~. Public sensitivity about food safety is particularly high because of national concerns about terrorism, the nation's food security, and the vulnerability of our agricultural resources. That sensitivity fits within a larger trend of greater public interest in food origins. Several well-publicized outbreaks of foodborne patho- gens have highlighted questions about disease sources and mitigation. Identifica- tion in human food products of genetically modified corn not yet approved for human consumption (US Congress, 2001) has raised concerns about the trace- ability of and accountability for food origins. Those and other issues have helped to fuel the rapid expansion of consumer demand for organic products and products from low-input agricultural systems over the last decade. Another important transformation is under way in how American society views the relationship between agriculture and the environment. Numerous public policies enacted over the second half of the 20th century sought to reduce the harmful environmental effects of agricultural intensification and widespread pes- ticide and fertilizer use. Today, however, the public is asking agriculture to go further and to deliver environmental benefits. That trend began with establish- ment of the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program and continued in recent discussions on the conservation title of the farm bill (US Congress, 2002~. The lands are expected to play an increasingly important role in providing clean water, mitigating global climate change, conserving the world's biologic diversity, and maintaining rural amenities, such as open space and recre- ational opportunities. Indeed, national demand for environmental and recreational services from the land is expected to outstrip demand for food in some areas, much as the recreational value of many national forests now exceeds their timber value (Sedjo, 1998~. There is also increased public awareness of and concern about global environmental change and challenges, including natural-resource degradation, desertification, climate change, and loss of global biodiversity. There have been important changes in the relationship between agriculture and rural communities. Agricultural production has become highly concentrated among fewer and fewer farms over the last century (NRC, 2002) and among larger operations. Farmers with annual gross sales of more than $250,000, repre- senting 8% of US farmers, produced 68% of the nation's agricultural production in 1999. US farmers with annual gross sales of less than $250,000, representing 92% of US farmers, produced only 32% of total agricultural production in 1999 (USDA, l999~. The farm population is quite diverse in economic circumstances and in sources of income. In comparison with the general US population, in- equality in household income is greater among farm households (Lobao, 1990; Lobao and Meyer, 2001; Mishra et al., 2002; USDA, 2001c). Agricultural
Vision and Leadership 19 decision-making and the adoption of new technologies increasingly involve rela- tively few large producers (NRC, 2002~. These distributional differences are associated with a decline in the social and economic vitality of many rural com- munities and persistent poverty in some areas despite numerous incentive and investment programs designed to reinvigorate rural economies. Agriculture has become a much smaller part of the rural economic base; farming is the primary economic activity of only one-fourth of rural counties) (USDA, 1994~. Persons living on farms constituted only 5. 1% of the rural population in the 2000 census (USDC, 2002~. Farm production and closely related employments accounts for 12.5% of the total rural employment (USDA, 2001d). Agricultural productivity itself cannot ensure the economic health of rural communities, pointing to a need for new opportunities. RECENT INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY The last few decades have seen advances across the spectrum of the life sciences and social sciences from molecular biology to ecosystem dynamics. Technical innovations resulting from those advances have begun to alter the prac- tices and products of agriculture fundamentally. The availability of new tools in turn provides further opportunities for research. Biotechnology and Genomics Beginning in 1983, scientists have introduced novel gene sequences into plants to confer resistance to specific insects, viruses, and herbicides; by 1995, transgenic crops that carry resistance traits were in commercial production. Transgenic varieties of cotton, corn, soybeans, tomato, squash, and papaya have fundamentally altered how seeds, crops, and foods are developed, produced, sold, and regulated. Current studies in plant genomic sciences promise to provide additional breakthroughs that will influence how future crop varieties are developed. Genetic mapping techniques that use DNA markers are increasing the rate of breeding of new crop varieties. Modern techniques for isolating and characteriz- ing genes and for determining the function of genes have led to an astounding leap in knowledge. Scientists have identified genes that are involved in cold, drought, and saline tolerance; genes that control flowering and vegetative growth; genes that control reproductive functions and embryo development; genes that confer resistance to fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and viruses; and genes that con- iIn farming-dependent counties, farming contributed a weighted annual average of 20% or more of the total labor and proprietor income in 1987-1989 (USDA, 1994). 2Closely related employment includes agricultural services, agricultural input industries, and agri- cultural processing and marketing (USDA, 2001d).
20 Frontiers in Agricultural Research trot levels of plant hormones and secondary metabolites that can impact human health and nutrition. The discoveries have occurred in crop plants, as well as model plants, and future work promises to deliver those and other traits to crop plants and to create ever greater opportunities for agriculture to affect human health and nutrition, sustainability in crop production, and crop productivity. Genomics tools are being used to study the genetic predisposition to environ- mental influences leading to human and animal disease. The tools will also be used to describe the impact of the chemical components of foods on disease con- ditions and will lead to a better understanding of the links between human health and nutrition. Increasingly, collaborations between nutritionists and researchers in the health sciences with plant scientists will create opportunities to develop foods that mitigate diseases and predispositions to diseases. Advances in nutrition science in the l990s expanded understanding of essen- tial nutrients and their role in the etiology of major diseases. That set the stage not only for recent growth in "functional" foods with specific nutritional attributes but also for future development of nutritionally fortified foods through biotech- nology. Advances in our understanding of animal nutrition and genetics have resulted in major gains in efficiency and quality in the dairy, livestock, poultry, and pork industries that are expected to enhance the future competitiveness of US animal agriculture. As the cloning of farm animals develops to commercial use, animal feeds are expected to be developed to match the genetics of the animals, and this should lead to more efficient growth and meat production, increased compatibility of meat with human dietary needs, and reduced waste and environ- mental pollution from animal production facilities. Advances in disease detection and control, including incorporation of vaccines and other preventives in feeds, will reduce the bacterial, fungal, and viral contamination of animal products, further increasing production efficiency and food safety. Ecosystem and Social Dynamics A more sophisticated understanding of the spatial and temporal dynamics of ecosystem patterns and processes has led to the emergence of new disciplines, including agricultural ecology, landscape ecology, ecosystem management, and earth-system science. The coupling of concepts from the new disciplines with new analytic frameworks and spatial technologies, such as geographic informa- tion systems and global positioning systems, is yielding powerful tools for under- standing the interactions between agricultural practices and the functioning of adjacent and distant ecosystems. The advances in ecology are revealing that such interactions are far more complex and far-reaching than previously thought. The environmental benefits or harmful effects of some agricultural practices can be additive or multiplicative and even be seen to change qualitatively when viewed over increasingly large spatial scales, over a greater diversity of ecologic systems, or over extended periods. Global-change processes related to climate, nitrogen
Vision and Leadership 21 deposition, and land use that are now being documented on very large spatial scales will have profound implications for the global environment and are partly the result of actions on many individual farms. Yes substantial gaps exist in our understanding of these interactions and therefore of how the actions of individual farmers might be adjusted to help mitigate global environmental problems. Global data on natural resources and the technologies for managing, manipu- lating, and applying this information are evolving rapidly, enabling the testing of hypotheses that could not previously be tested. Tools being developed will inte- grate spatially referenced and satellite-based, remotely sensed data into decision- support systems for farms, forests, and rangelands. Large new databases have provided the raw material for improved epidemiologic approaches for understand- ing, preventing, and minimizing disease outbreaks. Transfer and manipulation of massive datasets among researchers have become routine. And simultaneous access to multiple databases through the Internet has enabled synthetic data analyses that previously were impossible. An equally sophisticated understanding of the social and economic inter- actions between farm and nonfarm sectors has emerged through advances in the social sciences. For example, new analytic and modeling methods have made it possible to test the impacts of competing policy options in addressing a broad set of social goals. Burgeoning information resources are allowing analyses of demographic, economic, and environmental effects of trade and immigration trends. Emerging scientific approaches for exploring the interplay of social and biophysical processes for example, modeling approaches for assessing how changing economic conditions affect land-use decisions and ecologic condi- tions are expected to yield important insights into the determinants of environ- mental quality and the effectiveness of various policy approaches (e.g., Costanza, 1995; Matson et al., 1997; NRC, 1999; Parks, 1991; Sengupta et al., 2000~. The social and communication sciences have created a new human dimen- sion for understanding food safety and the acceptance of foods. The appreciation of risk assessment, risk communication, consumer education, and human behavior and attitudes are examples of the blending of biomedical and social sciences. The advent of genetically modified crops and animals has added to the importance of the human dimensions of contemporary agriculture and related research. A VISION FOR THE FUTURE The changes now under way in agriculture's social and scientific context require a new vision of agricultural research one that is grounded in lessons from the past, in changing American values, in global changes and challenges, and in scientific advances that have fundamentally altered the life, environmental, and social sciences. The new vision promotes agriculture as a beneficial eco- nomic, social, and environmental force. It embraces further gains in food and fiber production gains that will be crucial to meet the needs of an expanding US
22 Frontiers in Agricultural Research and global population and it provides other benefits, such as enhanced public health, clean water, wildlife, rural amenities, and social well-being. In the new vision, agricultural research anticipates the effects of new technologies and emerging socioeconomic structures on society, human health, and the environ- ment. Agricultural research is much more global in scope and consideration than in the past. The success of USDA's future agricultural research will be deter- mined by how it adapts to and manages change, innovation, entrepreneurism, and by a change in culture in how USDA research agencies work, with whom they work, and what they will work on. This is an unprecedented time in the history of agricultural research and a time in which there is a special premium on strong leadership skills (discussed in Chapters 4 and 7~. Implicit in the new vision and the need for leadership is a new definition of agriculture' s products and thus of agricultural research' s client base. US agricul- tural leaders and policy-makers are changing their primary emphasis from pro- duction efficiency to meeting changing consumer demands (ESCOP, 2001; USDA, 2001a). Food and fiber remain core products, but agriculture has an increasingly important role in the delivery of pharmaceutical, nutritional, and other biobased products; the sound stewardship of biologic, land, water, and atmospheric resources; the well-being of food animals; and in continuing to sustain the social and economic health of rural communities. Just as agricultural producers of the future will have an expanded role as global marketers and as environmental stewards, they will also need to be strong public-health advocates. As food and health are being linked in new ways, producers are being linked more closely with consumers, and agricultural products with human health, well- being, and productivity. The broadening of agriculture's products has greatly expanded the customers of US agricultural research results beyond commodity producers. Examples of the new customers are producers of pharmaceutical products; sustainable-, alternative-, and organic-farming interests; a broad array of public and private natural-resource and land managers; conservationists; rural communities; and government agencies. (Mechanisms for ensuring the relevance of research to stakeholder needs are discussed in Chapter 4.) What kind of federal research enterprise will be required to realize the new vision of agricultural research? It must address a new set of priorities in environ- ment, food and health, and community well-being (discussed in Chapter 3~. The research enterprise must reconsider food and society and their new relationships and roles and must shift its emphasis to consumer-oriented, health-conscious, global markets. Better targeting of resources through clear priority-setting mecha- nisms will improve accountability and make it possible to measure progress against national needs (discussed in Chapter 4~. An emphasis on flexibility will ensure responsiveness to changing public values and rapid development of scien- tific innovations. (Funding mechanisms that contribute to greater flexibility are discussed in Chapter 4.) A system that anticipates challenges arising from emerg- ing technologies, production systems, and consumption patterns rather than one
Vision and Leadership 23 that simply reacts to problems will lead to larger long-term net benefits for agriculture. Agriculture is a system that links many physical, biologic, social, and economic processes. Tomorrow's agricultural research must explicitly iden- tify and address these linkages so that progress in one agricultural sector does not inadvertently create or exacerbate problems in another sector. Broad representa- tion of the natural, social, environmental, and health sciences and consideration of relevant temporal and spatial scales will be essential to reflect the changing portfolio of agriculture's products and the expanding client base of agricultural research and also to support a multidisciplinary, systems approach (discussed in Chapters 5 and 7~. The REE agencies' specific approaches and roles must reflect the changing institutional context of federally supported research. REE funding today is a minor component of overall US funding of agricultural research, given the increasing contribution of state governments, industry, and other federal agencies (see Chapter 4~. Consequently, REE resources, always limited, should be targeted at efforts in which they can make a unique, critical, and high-impact contribution to the public good. One such effort is the response to major national needs iden- tified in Chapter 3, which are outcomes of the changing context for agriculture described above. Within these national needs, federal research must increasingly focus on basic research to create new platforms for private applications, which may often include long-term projects that could not exist on shorter time hori- zons. Federal research must also be directed toward outcomes with positive spillover benefits for the environment and public health. Federally supported research would thus complement, not duplicate, the emphasis of research funded by the private sector. Partnerships between REE agencies and universities over the last 50 years have been effective in addressing many of agriculture's greatest challenges, such as soil conservation. The emergence of new kinds of research organizations and structures is now providing opportunities for REE agencies to explore different kinds of partnerships and research collaborations at the same time as it challenges conventional ways of carrying out research. Policy changes allowing patenting and licensing of products of publicly funded research (such as the Government Patent Policy Act of 1980 [US Congress, 19801) have expanded the scope of collaboration between the public and private sectors, opening new opportunities and risks in technology development. The new breed of potential USDA partners also includes nonprofit research institutions, public-interest groups, and other fed- eral agencies involved in human health and the environment. New and more effective partnerships must be solidified among the USDA agencies, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Pro- tection Agency, and other federal agencies. REE collaboration with international partners will be even more important in the future in contributing to solving global challenges. Scientists have only begun to glimpse how sophisticated information technologies will revolutionize research relationships. Networked "virtual labo-
24 Frontiers in Agricultural Research ratories" already enable researchers separated by miles and even continents to collaborate on shared ideas, data, and manuscripts; they provide a powerful new tool for supporting the multidisciplinary work that will be increasingly important for REE agencies. USDA researchers will need to engage and encourage new voices in their decision-making and priority-setting. (Collaboration and new part- nerships are discussed in Chapter 5.) To address a broader set of research goals and to do so with greater account- ability, flexibility, foresight, and collaboration is a substantial challenge for the REE agencies. There are a variety of structural and cultural obstacles to change, including narrowness in scope, narrowness in discipline, insularity in style and approach, and resistance to change. Strong leadership will be necessary to surmount these obstacles and to achieve the vision (discussed in Chapter 7~. The body of this report identifies some of the key research opportunities that lie ahead for the REE agencies and some of the institutional and cultural changes that will enable USDA to realize the new vision of agricultural research. VISION STATEMENT: Agricultural research will support agriculture as a positive economic, social, and environmental force and will help the sector to fulfill ever-evolving demands. These include further gains in food and fiber production and such other benefits as enhanced public health, environmental services, rural amenities, and community well- being. USDA's REE agencies will provide leadership in fostering this concept. Agricultural research will be anticipatory, strategic, collabora- tive, cost-effective, and accountable to a broad client base. Agricultural research will engage relevant biophysical and socioeconomic disciplines in a systems approach to address new priorities. SUMMARY This chapter has offered a vision for agricultural research in context of advancing science and technology and changing public attitudes and needs. Globalization, trade liberalization, changes in consumer preferences, public concern about food safety and the environment, and changes in the relationship between agriculture and rural communities have altered the context in which agri- cultural research is conducted. Emerging approaches in biotechnology and genomics, ecosystem science, and social science have also transformed the practices and products of agriculture and have provided new opportunities for research. Agricultural research that holds promise for new benefits in public health, the environment, rural amenities, and community well-being and is antici- patory, strategic, collaborative, cost-effective, and accountable to a broad client base is envisioned.
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