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Research Frontiers The demands for research to support continued productivity gains, more and varied products, better human health, enhanced biosecurity, animal welfare, envi- ronmental benefits, and the vitality of rural communities are growing. At the same time, scientific advancement, innovation, and technologic development in a variety of fields, from molecular biology to ecosystem dynamics, offer new oppor- tunities for research to meet the demands. The US Department of Agriculture' s (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area is uniquely positioned to carry out research in these frontier areas that will serve important public goals. Agricultural research can address issues arising from five major phenomena: globalization; emergence of pathogens; links between diet, health promotion, and disease prevention; the relationship between agriculture and the environment; and changes in rural communities. This chapter highlights research directions related to each of those challenges that . Provide broad benefits for agriculture, the environment, and US citizens, families, and communities. · Anticipate the future and capture the unique opportunities of our time. Enhance the global competitiveness of the US food and agricultural system. Push the REE research agenda to be more consumer-driven rather than production-driven. 38
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 39 GLOBALIZATION Few recent economic changes equal those brought about by the globalization of the US economy in the last quarter of the 20th century. Now, in addition to managing their highly productive resource base, US agriculturalists must respond to changing consumer demands for products and services and must manage tech- nology, capital, and labor in globally integrated markets. Even with slowing worldwide population growth, demand for livestock products will rise dramati- cally with income growth in less-developed countries and lead to new market opportunities and new global challenges to agricultural systems (Delgado et al., 2001~. To be competitive in this global economy, US agriculture will need to continue its technologic leadership and long-term productivity gains. That will require new and more sophisticated technologies and systems for managing information. Advances in information technology and in genomic sciences create new possibilities for research to aid agriculture in delivering higher-quality products and services. But as the global nature of potential risks posed by new technology is better understood, there is also a need for more sophisticated evalu- ation of such risks. Thus, globalization creates the demand for greater under- standing of how global forces affect US agriculture, continued improvements in agricultural productivity, and better ex ante evaluation of risks posed by new technology. Evaluate the Implications of Globalization for US Agriculture and Agricultural-Research Priorities The worldwide trend for countries to export and import a growing share of goods, services, factors of production, and intellectual property will have impor- tant effects on national economies, societies, and the environment. Research is needed to provide a sound, scientific basis of policies and programs that address those effects in the United States. Such research must be integrative and examine the full effects of globalization and the environmental, social, and economic trade- offs that policy-makers will face. One of the principal issues that research should address is the relative benefits and costs of investing in different kinds of re- search, including research that yields societal and environmental benefits. A second issue is the challenge of removing policy distortions that bias incentives in world agriculture. A third issue is the changing international balance of supply and demand, including the continuing lack of food security2 in many nations. iFactors of production are the resources available for producing goods, and typically include land, labor, and capital. They may also include other natural resources, entrepreneurial ability, and human capital. 2According to the Life Sciences Research Office, Federation of American Societies for Experimen- tal Biology, food security exists when all people at all times have access to enough food for an active
40 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH These three issues are linked both globally and domestically. Although such research is currently undertaken by REE agencies, the scope of these issues will require REE agencies to break from convention and undertake research that is broader and more multidisciplinary and that involves collaborative partnerships with diverse institutions and agencies in the United States and internationally. A related area of research is better understanding of how worldwide changes in intellectual property rights policy alter the public research agenda. Changes in technology, in legal rulings, and in international agreements have increased the return on investment from privately funded agricultural and food research and the international spillovers from research investments (Parker et al., 2001; Reilly and Schimmelpfenning, 2000~. Partnerships, joint ventures, and other alliances between public and private institutions are becoming more common in agricul- tural research. Such partnerships increase funding for some kinds of research and improve the prospects for commercialization and use of new technologies, but at the same time they raise concerns about whether private-sector interests are playing too great a role in setting research priorities (Knudson, 2001; also see Chapter 5~. Although such concerns are not peculiar to agriculture (e.g., Feller et al., 2002; Heller and Eisenberg, 1998), the pace of change in agricultural research institutions and in biotechnology raises many unresolved issues (Smith, K.R., et al., 1999~. For example, will so-called interlocking patents on components of new technologies or knowledge prevent applications to new discoveries when they are owned by different parties (Smith, K.R., et al., 1999~? What role could the public sector play in bringing these parties together for discoveries with broad public benefit? Research is needed to understand better which new strategies for research funding, public-private collaboration, and technology transfer will yield the highest return on the public research investment. Improve Agricultural Productivity and Product Quality While Optimizing Resource Use Conventional approaches to genetic improvement have successfully enhanced the productivity, disease resistance and pest resistance, nutritive quality, and safety of plants and animals. Further improvements are now possible through genomics- and proteomics-based technologies. Although commercial investment in biotechnology is high, REE should continue to have a key role in research that is unlikely to be well supported by the private sector. For example, REE must lead the preservation of the nation's agricultural and healthy life. This includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and (2) the assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in a socially acceptable way (for example, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strate- gies) (FASEB LSRO, 1990).
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 41 genetic resources. The public sector also must invest in research to improve the efficacy and specificity of gene-transfer technology. Important research includes developing techniques for modifying plant and animal genomes, building models and systems analyses that integrate basic knowledge about plants and animals into gene selection, and synthesizing research findings on gene mapping and the expression of proteins associated with quantitative traits (proteomics). Current understanding of physiologic mechanisms and metabolic pathways does not pro- vide sufficient precision for targeting genetic manipulations. Given the high cost of genetic manipulations, especially in animals, greater precision and predictability are essential. Collaboration among experimentalists and modelers will be essen- tial to develop quantitative and dynamic models of interactions in physiologic and metabolic systems; this will enable scientists to make specific improvements and to understand the implications for the entire organism better. Finally, the application of genomics-based approaches to environmental issues is unlikely to have high commercial priority and should fall in the public- sector portfolio. Advances in agricultural genomics resulting from research in the above subjects will create new information resources and needs and conse- quently enlarge the use of bioinformatics in agriculture for acquiring, processing, storing, distributing, analyzing, and interpreting biologic information. Precision agriculture is another frontier technology that could substantially improve productivity while providing environmental benefits. This spatially explicit approach to crop management involves tracking production and tailoring inputs to meet the specific needs of subacre areas in individual fields. Recent advances in the technologies that underlie precision agriculture have outstripped their practical application. We need workable decision-support tools that will enable farmers to adjust the timing and amounts of seed, fertilizer, water, and pesticides to optimize production while minimizing waste and environmental effects. Close collaboration among experimental scientists, statisticians, econo- mists, engineers, and systems analysts will be essential for integrating experi- mental research into decision-support systems and underlying models for crop, animal, and environmental systems. The scientific underpinnings of farming approaches that seek to minimize agricultural inputs and adverse environmental effects broadly captured by the terms sustainable, alternative, and organic have burgeoned in recent decades (e.g., Robertson and Harwood, 2001~. Despite rapidly expanding consumer demand for organic or low-input agricultural products, funding of related research by the agricultural-technology sector has been chronically low because few dis- coveries can be commercialized. Consequently, REE must play a critical role in supporting both fundamental research on the functioning of agroecosystems and applied research on methods of enhancing production by modifying or augment- ing agroecosystem processes. Other important research will include assessments of economic competitiveness and barriers to user adoption of such farming practices.
42 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH Evaluate the Economic, Social, Health, and Environmental Effects of Agricultural Technologies and Practices Understanding the full potential effects social, economic, health, environ- mental, and ethical of new technologies and practices, including their global effects, is crucial to sound research choices and to technology transfer. New technologies often have enormous promise to enhance people's lives. However, they also raise important questions about environmental and health risks, the distribution of benefits and risks, and public values and ethics. Exploring such questions early in the R&D process will focus investment in technology develop- ment on efforts most likely to generate the greatest public benefits. The production of genetically modified food, for example, has raised new issues related to the appropriate level of health and environmental review, product labeling, and public communication. Public debate has highlighted differences in perceptions and values among segments of society and among scientists who have different expertise. Other emerging technologies and practices will raise similar issues. Recent and current examples include the use of recombinant bovine somatotropin in dairy cattle, development of antibiotic resistance from use of antimicrobials in the livestock and dairy industries, the causes of and solutions to coastal hypoxia, and the availability and uses of human genetic infor- mation. Optimizing the benefits of new agricultural technologies and practices will require research on risk assessment and communication, applied ethics, public values, and negotiated decision-making processes. Some efforts, such as those to assess the ecologic effects of new technologies and practices on near and distant ecosystems, will require research to develop more effective analytic frameworks and methods. Publicly supported research on new technologies must be coupled with public education that demystifies scientific and technical information for the general public and provides balanced information about benefits and risks. Public- education efforts should be coupled with social-science research and discussion to ensure that information about public understanding and values is incorporated into the initial stages of new technology R&D. REE is uniquely positioned to provide leadership in this respect because of its dual responsibilities for research and education. EMERGING PATHOGENS AND OTHER HAZARDS IN THE FOOD-SUPPLY CHAIN Advances in the science of public health, changes in how consumers obtain and prepare food, and increases in international trade in food products and ani- mals all increase the profile of food safety and animal and plant health (Unnevehr and Roberts, 2002~. Preharvest and postharvest foodborne pathogens such as
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 43 Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella enteritidis, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. cold 0157:H7 continue to emerge and to pose threats to human health (Hughes, 2001; Todd, 2001; Unnevehr and Roberts, 2002~. Furthermore, the long-term consequences of many foodborne illnesses are only now being uncovered, such as the link between salmonella infection and rheumatoid arthritis. Understanding and reducing foodborne risks to human, animal, and plant health will require new research that will ultimately support both private and public efforts to eliminate hazards. New scientific tools, such as genetic "fingerprinting" of microbial patho- gens and rapid detection methods, provide new opportunities for epidemiology and risk assessment. The threat of bioterrorism lends urgency to those research needs. Reduce the Risks of Bioterrorism The risk of a terrorist attack on the United States that targets the food or water supply is a critical national concern (Frist, 2002~. Several agencies with different and complementary expertise are collaborating to reduce the threat and to increase our capability to minimize the loss of life and other consequences if such a disaster occurs. REE is already a key contributor to collaborative federal efforts against bioterrorism, and the demand for further contributions will increase in the decades ahead. The growing international trade in food products and ingredients will multiply the number of possible points of introduction of harmful agents into nonprocessed and processed foods, and the virulence of emerging and potential pathogens heightens the risk. But REE' s ability to provide the research needed to avert a biologic attack via the food or water supply has declined in recent years because of reduced funding. There is an unprecedented need for scientists with appropriate training and for upgraded facilities to conduct biohazard research. Within REE are laboratories that would be high-priority candidates for improved security. Improve Microbiologic Food Safety Serious gaps persist in the nation's ability to rapidly and effectively manage known and emerging preharvest and postharvest pathogens, that is, to detect, trace the origins of, and eliminate pathogens in the farm-to-table food chain. Although recent research has improved food safety and the US food supply is one of the safest in the world, the system's growing complexity and dynamism con- tinue to generate needs for information (Kuzminski,1994~. For example, current food-consumption trends toward more fresh, uncooked, fast, and imported foods raise questions about the sources of and solutions to food contamination (Hughes, 2001; Todd, 2001; Unnevehr and Roberts, 2002~. At the same time, improved scientific understanding of pathogen evolution and virulence from genomics
44 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH research has opened important new research avenues related to the identification and origins of pathogens. Research on the epidemiology and public-health con- sequences of microbial pathogens must be integrated with research on control and monitoring of pathogens. Multidisciplinary research for risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication has the potential to make a major contribu- tion to the safety of the US food supply. Such research must be dynamic and evolving if it is to "anticipate future microbial hazards and construct barriers to disease" (IFT,2002~. Timely application of new discoveries will assist the USDA action agencies in addressing their own emerging needs through applied research. Understand and Minimize the Hazards of Food Allergens and Toxicants Food allergens3 and toxicants4 and their mechanisms of action are poorly understood, and this hampers the development of prevention strategies and therapies (FDA, 1992; NRC, 2000b). Improved knowledge, including adequate methods for screening novel allergens or toxicants, is increasingly urgent in light of the concern that transgenic or conventional breeding technologies may create unexpected allergenic or toxic properties in food through pleiotropic processes (NRC, 2000b). Moreover, it is uncertain whether transgenic techniques are more likely than conventional plant-breeding techniques to increase the risks related to allergens, toxicants, or other unintended consequences (NRC, 2000b). Two examples of unexpected allergenic or toxic properties of transgenic technologies are the transfer of potential allergenicity from a Brazil nut gene introduced into soybean to enhance its nutritional content (Nordlee et al., 1996) and the Bacillus thuringiensis Cry 9C protein, which does not degrade rapidly in gastric fluids and raised concerns of potential allergenicity when it was inadvertently introduced into the human food supply (USDHHS, 2001; USEPA, 1998~. Insofar as research related to the creation of transgenic crops has greatly outpaced research related to pleiotropic and other unintended consequences, there is strong public and scientific interest in creating a government-sponsored pro- gram to explore questions about food allergens and toxicants that are unlikely to be pursued by the private sector. An aggressive federally funded program would speed necessary basic research, for example, developing an animal model of food allergenicity in humans. Once these questions are resolved, it may be possible to identify the mechanisms by which some proteins cause allergies or toxic effects and to develop innovative mechanisms to reduce the hazard associated with these proteins. The mechanisms might include developing biotechnologic approaches to inactivate allergenic or toxic substances in foods. Mood allergens may include peanut, shellfish, milk, and eggs. 4A food toxicant is a naturally occurring chemical (a chemical produced by a plant or animal) that is harmful. Glycoalkaloids in potatoes and furanocoumarins in celery are examples (NRC, 2000b).
RESEARCH FRONTIERS Improve Understanding and Management of Plant and Animal Diseases 45 Advances in science offer new opportunities to manage plant and animal health in an increasingly integrated global economy. They include new applica- tions of epidemiology, risk assessment, and risk-management tools to understand risks posed by wildlife or by increased international trade in plants and animals. Enhancing disease resistance of plants and animals through genetic techniques could yield major benefits by reducing processing and production costs and lessening the use of antibiotics in animal production. Basic research on applying biotechnology will be a requisite for such applied research. REE should also support research on other alternatives to antibiotics for promoting growth and preventing livestock disease, such as competitive exclusion and vaccination, to address questions about the human health implications of antibiotic use in live- stock and producers' desires for improved management options. NUTRITION AND HUMAN HEALTH Despite food and nutrition assistance programs, hunger and food insecurity persist in the United States. Food-insecurity prevalence was 10.8% across house- holds in the United States during the period 1998-2000, with prevalence ranging from 7.8% to 15.9% of households among the states (Sullivan and Choi, 2002~. In addition, prevalence of overweight and obesity5 among US adults has increased over the last 3 decades and was estimated at 61 % in 1999 (USDHHS, 1980, 1988, 1999), and the percentage of overweight children and adolescents has also increased (USDHHS, 1970, 1974~. Many chronic diseases are weight-related, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, gallbladder dis- ease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and asthma. Weight-related behaviors, such as poor diet and lack of physical activity, are linked to these continuing epidemics (Mokdad et al., 2001~. To date, the primary US policy response to long-term diet-related conditions, such as obesity and chronic disease, has focused on con- sumer information (for example, through labeling) and education (for example, through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program), with much less attention given to the community and societal factors that facilitate or inhibit the adoption and maintenance of healthful diets and lifestyles. There is urgent need for continued REE research to guide and evaluate food and nutrition policies and interventions at multiple levels and settings, including individual, family, school, worksite, retail, marketing, and production. Some of these research priorities are identified in the US Action Plan on Food Security (USDA, l999b). Many aspects of the links between diet, health, and disease are only now becoming understood. Exciting new possibilities for improving health, Obesity is defined as a body-mass index score of 30 or more. Overweight is defined as a body- mass index score of 25 or more.
46 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH for controlling some diseases, and for preventing or postponing the onset of some chronic diseases through diet and for tailoring diets to individual nutritional risks are emerging. Strengthening and expanding such priorities will be one of the most important ways for agricultural research to provide benefits to the general public. Although the development of new food products will be driven by private- sector funding, USDA should expand research to provide a scientific basis for efforts to shift dietary patterns and physical activity in a more healthful direction. As science evolves and public-health challenges shift, a flexible framework for setting research priorities must be constructed. REE should develop a research strategy that focuses resources on the most prevalent and costly diseases for which research has the greatest potential for improving the health of the American people. The REE effort should be done in collaboration with other public-health agencies, including NIH (see Chapter 5 for additional discussion of collaboration). Advance Research on Bioactive Food Components REE has a tremendous opportunity to evaluate the health effects of biologi- cally active food components that promote health and prevent disease. Bioactive components occur naturally in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and include an array of chemical compounds with varied structures, such as caro- tenoids, flavonoids, plant sterols, omega-3 fatty acids, allyl and diallyl sulfides, indoles, and phenolic acids. There is a need for a scientific understanding of the chemistry, metabolism, and health effects of these food components. There is also a need to assess the concentrations of these components in foods and to incorporate the information into food-composition databases so that dietary intakes may be estimated and tracked. The Agricultural Research Service should continue its work compiling databases on carotenoids, flavonoids, and other bioactive compounds. Elucidate Genetic Mechanisms That Affect Human Health and Nutrition Nutrition-related research on human genetics will provide the foundation for further understanding of the metabolic fate of nutrients and the biochemical func- tions of food components, including macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, bioactive components, and pharmacologic agents. It also will elucidate how and why people vary in their requirements for and uses of various food components. Such knowledge has important applications to disease prevention and to minimizing exposure to physiologically harmful ingredients in plant and animal products. The genetic basis of such variation is not well understood. Researchers have identified relatively few of the specific genes that affect the human body's use of various food components. Also unknown are many aspects of how the genes interact with one another or with the environment to produce specific nutritional or disease outcomes. Near-term research priorities include the identification of
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 47 biomarkers that correlate with gene activity and functional genomics and proteomics research to understand correlations between genotype and phenotype. Such work eventually should make it possible to identify a constellation of phenotypes that signal high disease risk. Improved understanding of how genes affect individual nutritional status and disease risk could eventually have an important role in shaping public-health policy. For example, a better understanding of how genes affect the body's storage and use of food calories would greatly enhance efforts to develop effec- tive food and nutrition policies for reversing our national epidemic of obesity. In light of the likely rapid entry of transgenic foods into the marketplace in the coming years and the potential that some of the intended and unintended compositional changes may disproportionately affect genetically susceptible seg- ments of the population (NRC, 2000b), there is some urgency to accelerating the research into the interactions between genes and bioactive compounds in food and dietary supplements. Indeed, there may be merit in coordinating this research in some manner that gives priority to studying the genetic interactions with ingre- dients that are consumed by the most people or that hold the greatest potential for producing undesirable consequences. Improve the Nutrient Content of Foods Opportunities are expanding to enhance human health through plant and animal products that have improved or enhanced nutrient content. Dietary shifts among consumers toward healthier eating patterns are generating demands for foods of superior hearth quality (Krause et al., 1988~. Continuation of that trend is expected to reinforce the changes of the last decade that made nutraceuticals and functional foods (foods containing bioactive components) a substantial part of the food industry (Childs, 2001; Van Elswyk et al., 1998~. With those shifts in consumer demand, scientific discoveries have greatly expanded understanding of where and how nutrient enhancement could yield improvements in human health. Through advances in biotechnology, scientists now envision using plants as "nutrient factories" that produce nutritionally forti- fied foods (Burn and Kishore, 2000; Kleese, 2000;) and using major crops as tools for improving human health (Della Penna, 1999~. Similar advances in animal biotechnology and scientific understanding of the controls over animals' physical traits will enable researchers to modify meat composition. Modification of fats in plant and animal products is a particularly promising research subject because some fat-consumption patterns are thought to affect the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes in adult humans and to improve health and nervous system development in newborns. Food technology is a direct approach for modifying the fatty acid properties of foods. Processed foods are the primary source of bans fatty acids, and processors are already imple- menting new technology to eliminate these. In addition, today's understanding of
48 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH the genetic controls over fat structure in plants should make it possible to custom- ize plant lipid biosynthesis to reduce saturates, decrease oxidation potential, eliminate bans fatty acids, and increase essential long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants (Brown at al., 1999~. Improve Understanding of Food-Consumption Behavior and its Links to Health National food-consumption surveys and nutritional epidemiology studies have been key components of the current understanding of the relationships between diet, health, and disease. REE has an important continuing role to play in the collection and evaluation of food-consumption data. The USDA Agri- cultural Research Service and the Department of Health and Human Services National Center for Health Statistics have worked collaboratively to implement the congressionally mandated merger of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) and the Continuing Survey of the Food Intakes of Individuals into a single comprehensive, national food-consumption and health survey (called NHANES). USDA's improved method of obtaining data on food consumption is a critical component of the new merged survey. More-detailed food-consumption data, including data on brand-name processed foods and res- taurant foods, will allow better interpretation of the results from NHANES and from other nutrition research studies (such as clinical trials and nutrition-inter- vention studies). Subar et al. (in press) and Kipnis et al. (in press) reported that current dietary- assessment methods 24-hour dietary recalls and food-frequency questionnaires- underestimated both protein and energy intake. There is a great need for REE to continue to improve methods of assessing food consumption so that the results will be accurate and provide insight into diet-related health issues, such as obe- sity, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Growing public use of dietary supplements (Eisenberg et al., 1998) has cre- ated new needs to incorporate related information into REE's food-composition database and food-consumption survey. This information will allow estimations of the extent, level, and types of dietary supplements consumed among various demographic groups and the beliefs and motivations that underlie these behaviors. Data on dietary-supplement consumption may reveal associations between dietary-supplement intake and health measures and safety concerns. There is also a major gap in knowledge of the safety of various ingredients in dietary supplements. The private sector has little incentive to invest in this subject and no regulatory requirement to do so, and it might therefore be appropriate for publicly funded research. This information is also vital for research and public- policy decisions on nutrition-related issues. Improvements in human nutrition and health will depend on the actions of individuals, households, and food manufacturers. Although private research is
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 49 extensive, it focuses on enhancing the appeal of food products for targeted con- sumer markets. A comparable research base does not exist for understanding the reasons for consumer choices related to food selection, exercise patterns, and unhealthy habits, such as alcohol abuse and use of tobacco and recreational drugs. Such a research base would help to answer such questions as, Which public or private sources of information are most credible to various segments of society? What values, beliefs, and environmental factors motivate health- and nutrition- related behaviors? How do motivation, behavior, and environmental factors vary among individuals or population groups? Answers to those questions will be essential for designing effective nutritional policies and programs. ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP An important transformation in how the American public views the relation- ship between agriculture and the environment is under way. Whereas past public policies sought to minimize the harmful effects of agricultural practices on the environment, such as pollution, the policies of today and those of tomorrow will go further toward realizing agriculture' s potential to deliver broad environmental benefits, such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation. Agricultural research thus must play the dual roles of developing environmentally nonharmful farming practices and advancing new practices for managing land and natural resources that will yield environmental benefits. Both endeavors will be aided by integrating recent conceptual advances from the ecologic and social sciences. In the context of increasing pressures on global land, water, and genetic resources and global environmental change, US-based agricultural research can contribute to delivering global environmental benefits and to informing decision- making on international environmental agreements. Reduce Pollution and Conserve Natural Resources Air and water pollution and its harmful effects on the environment and human health remain important byproducts of many agricultural practices. The sources of pollution include fertilizers and pesticides used to enhance productivity (NRC, 2000a; Smith, V.H., et al., l999~; animal wastes, particularly from animal-feeding operations (CENR, 2000; NRC, 2000a, 2002b); greenhouse gases (IPCC, 2001; Robertson et al., 2000~; and soil released by some production methods (e.g., Lal, 1998~. Research is needed to understand the off-farm transport of agricultural contaminants and to design more effective strategies for keeping nutrients, chemi- cals, and soils within the farming system. National attention has recently focused on invasive species species spread beyond their natural geographic ranges as a major threat to agriculture, other industries, public health, and natural ecosystems. More than 300 nonnative weeds have invaded western rangelands (Babbitt, 1998; Di Tomaso,2000~; exotic insects
so FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH and pathogens (such as the imported red fire ant, the soybean cyst nematode, and the gypsy moth) threaten public health and the productivity of crop and forest ecosystems; and invasive species have contributed to the decline of almost half the imperiled species in the United States (Wilcove et al., 1998~. Enormous gaps exist in our ability to predict or mitigate most species invasions, and research needs are great. For example, what makes some ecosystems and certain locations more susceptible to invasions and some species better and more damaging invaders? What are the economic and ecologic trade-offs among different con- trol strategies? Several groups of scientists have summarized key scientific re- search questions (e.g., Byers et al., 2002; Ewel et al., 1999; Mack et al., 2000; McNeely et al., 2001~. Moreover, the National Invasive Species Management Plan, developed by an interagency council convened under Executive Order 13112, has identified high-priority research needs for reducing the economic and environmental impacts of invasive species in the United States (NISC, 2002~. In agricultural areas across the United States, application of fertilizers, manure, and pesticides (primarily herbicides) have degraded the quality of streams and shallow groundwater. Some of the highest concentrations of nitrogen found in recent national water-quality assessments occur in streams and groundwater in agricultural areas (NRC, 2000a; USGS, l999~. Soil erosion from cropland causes substantial losses in topsoil quality and quantity (9 t/ha per year) (Heinz Center, 1999; USDA, 2000a, 2000b) and results in environmental costs estimated to be about $17 billion per year (Pimentel et al., 1995~. The use of about 6% of the total US energy budget by the agricultural sector (including use for manufactured inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides) consumes much imported oil and yields greenhouse gases (Duncan, 2001; Pimentel et al., 2002; USBC, 1999~. Research is needed on technologies and policies that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, improve the efficiency of cropland irrigation, and increase the energy efficiency of agricultural production. Advance Environmentally Sound Alternatives Reduced pesticide use could result from broader US adoption of pesticide alternatives, including biologic pest control and mechanical crop-management practices, such as crop rotation, cover crops, and tillage and planting techniques that disrupt pest life cycles and promote natural enemies. Adoption of those approaches remains low in the United States in comparison with other nations (NRC, 2000c; Pattersson, 1997; Pimentel et al., 1993~. Socioeconomic research is necessary to understand and address the impediments to farmers' adoption of pesticide alternatives. Reductions in domestic oil supplies have heightened interest in the use of fuels and feedstock derived from corn and nontraditional crops, such as perennial grasses (NRC, 1999~. Corn-based ethanol production has received particular attention. Related research on biofuels needs to consider not only biochemical
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 51 feasibility but also energy efficiency in feedstock production, fermentation, and distillation processes (Pimentel, 2001), and the full range of socioeconomic and environmental costs and benefits of biofuel production and use. The development of improved crop cultivars and livestock strains through genomics holds the promise of enhancing agriculture's environmental compat- ibility in numerous ways. Improving plant nutrient use and improving efficiency of nutrient digestion and use in livestock, for example, could help to lower fertilizer needs and keep excess nitrogen and phosphorus out of waterways. Enhanced efficiency of water use by major crops would reduce agricultural water demands. Plants and animals with increased resistance to pests or diseases should require lower rates of pesticide and fungicide application. Related research should focus both on extension of biotechnology to environmental issues and on evaluat- ing related environmental risks, such as the potential spread of novel genes and phenotypes into populations of native microorganisms, plants, and insects. The spread of novel genes to microorganisms in particular poses a largely unknown risk to the ecology of agricultural and natural landscapes. Deliver New Environmental Benefits The increasing public demand for recreational and environmental services from the nation's land and water resources has enormous implications for agri- culture and rural economies. One effect has been the clear trend in US agricultural policy, such as the conservation title of the US Farm Security and Rural Invest- ment Act (US Congress, 2002), to reward farmers for delivering environmental benefits beyond food and fiber production. That approach is expected to play an increasingly important role as the nation seeks solutions to some of its most press- ing environmental challenges. For example, appropriately managed agricultural lands are expected to be critical in managing the nation's water resources by capturing and filtering rainwater and by sustaining wetlands that dissipate river floodwaters and filter runoff. Carbon sequestration in fields, rangelands, and forests is recognized for its importance in controlling global warming and climate change, and the emergence of carbon-credit markets is creating a new agricul- tural commodity (CAST, 2000; IPCC, 2000~. The long-term conservation of the nation's biologic diversity may depend in part on management of agricultural lands to provide habitats and migratory corridors for native plants and animals. However, the science underpinning the environmental benefits of agriculture has lagged substantially behind policy advances. Some of the key researchable questions are technical. Which lands should be managed in what manner to deliver what benefits? For example, what configurations of land use will best support biologic diversity in agricultural landscapes? How might the disappear- ance of farmland due to exurbanization and transportation corridors affect future opportunities? Socioeconomic research also is needed to design policy instru- ments for encouraging private environmental stewardship. For example, what
52 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH would be the implications of creating new sources of farm income from such activities as the sale of hunting rights and government payments for sequestering atmospheric carbon? Integrate Leading-Edge Environmental Science Concepts and Technologies Promoting the environmental application of new technologies and of con- ceptual advances in the biophysical and social sciences should be an integral part of the REE environmental portfolio. Dynamic and innovative research approaches that include those elements could position REE to make important advances against some of the most vexing environmental challenges. For example, the combination of a biophysical understanding of nutrient dynamics and a socio- economic understanding of policy, legal, and market influences on environmental decision-making will be essential for crafting long-term solutions to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico caused by agricultural runoff (Goolsby et al., 2000; NRC, 2000a; Rabalais et al., 1996) and for mitigating greenhouse gases (CAST, 2003~. Environmental research administered by REE requires study on the appro- priate geographic and time scales. For example, questions related to water supply and quality often require study at the level of entire watersheds or larger areas rather than the traditional field or farm level of analysis. Similarly, analyses of processes that occur over decades and longer periods may be required to provide solutions that involve natural long-term environmental changes, such as climate variability, biogeochemical processes, and insect, weed, and pathogen dynamics. The newer geospatial technologies geographic information systems and the global positioning system coupled with related analytic and modeling approaches hold great promise for understanding and addressing the underlying links among landscape units in watersheds and regions. The benefits of greater emphasis on spatial analyses would cut across environmental issues, from the spread of invasive species to the design of wetlands and riparian filter strips. Other new technologies offer additional opportunities. New molecular approaches provide tools for understanding soil microbial communities and man- aging the complex relationships between soil biology and ecosystem health (Buckley and Schmidt, 2001a, 2001b). Nanoscale technologies could help to reveal the dynamics of biologic processes, such as insect movement, pheromone dynamics, and soil-atmosphere gas fluxes. And advances in information technol- ogy, including wireless field monitors and environmental-database design, will help to understand environmental variability. QUALITY OF LIFE IN RURAL COMMUNITIES The quality of life in rural communities is deteriorating in many regions with shifting populations, inadequate workforce competence, and weak community
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 53 structures (ESCOP, 2001~. Agriculture is the economic base of only one-fourth of the rural counties in the United States, and continuing consolidation means that agriculture provides fewer jobs even in those counties; so improvements in agri- cultural income cannot provide the sole solution to rural economic development. In some regions, dwindling rural economies have caused many once-viable com- munities to become almost "ghost towns" characterized by declining education and health services and supported by a weakened tax base. In other areas, agri- culture remains crucial to rural amenities and quality of life that may ultimately promote a broader base for the rural economy. New social-science research tools enable a better understanding of economic links and of the role of social and human capital, entrepreneurism, and leadership in rural growth. REE research can provide the basis of programs that help people and institutions to respond successfully to continuing economic and institutional change. Evaluate the Effects of Changes in Market Structure A smaller number of worldwide companies now dominate the global agricul- tural industry, and broad alliances have become common among producers of new technologies, pharmaceuticals, and food (NRC, 2002a). In US agricultural markets, relatively few corporate entities control a major share of sales volume in the input, farming, processing, and food-distribution industries. Moreover, links between sectors are far more common than before. A growing number of com- modities are now produced under contracts that specify management techniques or product characteristics. Those structural changes in agricultural markets have important implications for the welfare of producers and consumers through their influence on rural development, price discovery,6 access to markets, and industry response to chang- ing consumer demands. Research is needed to understand the effects of vertical integration,7 contracting,8 and consolidations on performance of the food system. Expanded knowledge also will be essential for designing new institutions for price discovery and market coordination. Research is needed to understand how structural changes influence agriculture's role in the rural economy and the breadth of economic participation in agriculture. Such research will support REE 6Price discovery is the process by which buyers and sellers find the price that equates available supply with demand. 7Vertical integration (or vertical coordination) is the coordination of stages auction and marketing chain under common ownership. in the agricultural pro- ~Contracts are agreements between producers and companies or other farmers that specify condi- tions of production or marketing. Consolidation is the merging or joining of businesses that produce the same product at the same stage of the production and marketing chain (Tweeter and Flora, 2001).
54 FRONTIERS IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH programs to aid decision-makers in the agricultural sector and USDA action- agency programs for rural economic development. Meet the Challenge of Rural Development's Changing Context The differences in economic activities in rural areas, the differences in eco- nomic circumstances between farm households and the general US population (particularly the rural population), and the differences within the farm population (presence of limited-resource farmers) strengthen a rationale for moving research and outreach focus beyond the traditional large-farm constituency (Lobao, 1990; Lobao and Meyer, 2001; Mishra et al., 2002; USDA, 2001~. Solving the problems of rural communities will require research to understand how to broaden and diversify the rural economic base, how to increase access to emerging markets, and how to invest in developing skills for responding to change. Sociologic and economic research must provide the knowledge essential for strengthening com- munity leadership skills, diversifying participation in the global economy, devel- oping new markets, understanding needed economic transitions, meeting the costs of adjusting to change, and eliminating the "digital divide," or gap between those with access to information infrastructure and those without (ESCOP, 2001~. Understanding of the roles of social and human capital, entrepreneurism, and leadership in building successful rural communities constitutes a basic social- science research frontier. Rural communities, farm workers, resource-poor, and small-scale farmers- more likely to be black or female face unique challenges (Lobao and Meyer, 2001; USDA, 1999a, 2001~. Since 1986, farm-labor contractors have taken a much greater role in the functioning of farm-labor markets. This occurred to shift liability away from growers when undocumented farm workers were employed in the fields (Martin et al., 1994~. Access to health services, exposure to health risks, such as agricultural chemicals, and children's education are issues of par- ticular concern to them. Research is needed to understand how occupational and geographical mobility, new technologies, new markets, and social programs can benefit these groups. Ultimately, findings from such research would be applied in efforts to strengthen rural communities through participatory decision-making and entrepreneurial economic development. ADVANCING THE FRONTIERS The research frontiers noted above all have to do with agriculture as a system that links many biologic, physical, social, and economic processes. Tomorrow's agricultural research must explicitly identify and address those links so that progress in one agricultural sector does not inadvertently create or exacerbate problems in another. There is a need for systematic research on indicators of the
RESEARCH FRONTIERS 55 environmental, social, and community impacts of REE agencies (discussed fur- ther in Chapter 6~. These research opportunities will require greater emphasis on engaging all relevant disciplines in developing workable, effective, and long- term solutions and in providing early assessments of new technologies and policy shifts. An approach that addresses researchable questions on all relevant scales- from genes, fields, and farms to landscapes, watersheds, and regions also will be essential, as will a long-term strategic approach that looks not only at near- term issues but also at questions best studied over periods of decades or longer (Box 3-1~. Research on the frontiers identified above is often best undertaken in the public sector because many of the challenges will not be fully addressed through private-sector research and because related USDA programs and policies will require an expanded research base (see Box 3-2~. In many cases, new research opportunities will require expanded collaboration among scientific disciplines, federal agencies, or international organizations. REE is uniquely positioned to address the new frontiers in agricultural research alone or in collaboration with other partners through its historical strengths in mission-oriented research, col- laboration at all levels, and responsibility for collecting food and agricultural data. RECOMMENDATION 1: REE should provide leadership for the agri- cultural community in exploring research frontiers in food, health, envi- ronment, and communities. REE should build on its historical strengths and become a scientific leader in using new technologies and emerging scientific paradigms to pursue strategic, long-term research goals. A greater emphasis on multidisciplinary work that engages all relevant disciplines will be needed to address many new research frontiers. Successfully addressing these research frontiers will require that USDA become a scientific leader in identifying, evaluating, and deploying new tech- nologies and emerging scientific paradigms. The limited disciplinary coverage of each USDA agency and the mixed history of communication among research disciplines pose a serious challenge to advancing this new level of multi- disciplinary research. One essential step will be improved coordination among USDA agencies and between USDA and other federal and nonfederal agencies and institutions. An equally critical change will be to move from a narrowly focused set of research priorities to a more strategic and long-term approach to food and agricultural research. Ultimately, that will require either an expansion or a reallocation of research funds across REE because some of the most com- pelling research needs have received little funding in past agency budgets. Chapter 4 discusses such institutional and resource issues in detail.
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RESEARCH FRONTIERS 6 SUMMARY This chapter has identified new research directions related to five major phenomena: globalization; the emergence of pathogens; links between diet, health promotion, and disease prevention; the relationship between agriculture and the environment; and changes in rural communities. A multidisciplinary, strategic approach, consideration of relevant spatial and temporal scales, and coordination with other agencies will be essential for addressing many of those research topics. A unique role for the public sector, and specifically for REE, in undertaking the research is justified, given the expanded research needs of USDA programs and policies and the limited capability for pnvate-sector research to address it. REFERENCES Alston, J.A., and P.G. Pardey. 1996. Making Science Pay: The Economics of Agricultural R&D Policy. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Alward, R.D., J.K. Detling, and D.G. Milchunas. 1999. Grassland vegetation changes and nocturnal global warming. Science 283:229-231. Babbitt, B. 1998. Statement by Secretary of the Interior on invasive alien species. Pp.8-10 in National Weed Symposium. Denver, CO: Bureau of Land Management. Brown, P., S. Gettner, and C. Somerville. 1999. Genetic engineering of plant lipids. Annual Review of Nutritionl9: 197-216. Buckley, D.H., and T.M. Schmidt. 2001a. The structure of microbial communities in soil and the lasting impacts of cultivation. Microbial Ecology 42:11-21. Buckley, D.H., and T.M. Schmidt. 2001b. Exploring the biodiversity of soil A microbial rainforest. Pp. 183-208 in Biodiversity of Microbial Life: Foundation of Earth's Biosphere, J.T. Staley and A.L Reeysenbach, eds. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Burn, P., and G. Kishore. 2000. Food as a source of health enhancing compounds. AgBioForum 3(1):3-9. Available online at http://www.agbioforum.org. Byers, J. E., S. Reichard, J.M. Randall, I.M. Parker, C.S. Smith, W.M. Lonsdale, I.A.E. Atkinson, T.R. Seastedt, M. Williamson, E. Chornesky, and D. Hayes. 2002. Directing research to reduce the impacts of nonindigenous species. Conservation Biology 16(3):630-640. CAST (Council on Agricultural Science and Technology). 2000. Storing Carbon in Agricultural Soils to Help Mitigate Global Warming. N.J. Rosenberg and R.C. Izaurralde, eds. IP14, April. Wash- ington, DC: Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory. CAST (Council on Agricultural Science and Technology). 2003. Agriculture's Response to Global Climate Change. B. Babcock and K. Paustian, eds. CAST Report No. 138. Ames, IA: Council on Agricultural Science and Technology. CENR (Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, National Science and Technology Council). 2000. Integrated Assessment of Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Washing- ton, DC: National Science and Technology Council Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Childs, N.M. 2001. Marketing issues for functional foods and nutraceuticals. In Handbook of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods, R.C. Wildman, ed. New York: CRC Press. Collins, S.L., A.K. Knapp, J.M. Briggs, J.M. Blair, and E.M. Steinauer. 1998. Modulation of diversity by grazing and mowing in native tallgrass prairie. Science 280:745-747. Delgado, C., M. Rosegrant, H. Steinfeld, S. Ehui, and C. Courbois. 2001. Livestock to 2020: The next food revolution. Pp. 89-94 in The Unfinished Agenda, P. Pinstrup-Andersen and R. Pandya- Lorch, eds. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
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