Meeting the challenges facing the food and agriculture system requires a significant shift in the way we produce, process, distribute, and consume food. Agriculture is an important part of any discussion of nutrition and health, environment, the economy, and global stability, and it is neither realistic nor productive to address these issues in isolation. Research priorities must shift to meet these ongoing challenges, and agricultural research, education, and extension institutions in the United States and globally must be strengthened.
Although studies consistently indicate a very high return on investment in agricultural research, spending has slowed during the past few decades. In the United States, real (inflation-adjusted) growth in public agricultural research spending has declined by more than 20 percent since peaking in 1994. Major breakthroughs are needed both in basic agronomic research and in the development of technologies and techniques to intensify agricultural production in ecologically appropriate ways. Research must also be substantially more integrative, approaching challenges through interdisciplinary efforts that encompass both the physical and social sciences and leaders from government agencies, private industry, nongovernmental organizations, education and research institutions, the global research community, and more.
The core components of National Research Council’s definition of sustainable agriculture, which was also used in the USDA “Research, Education, and Economics Action Plan”(February 2012), should guide research investment to: (1) produce enough to satisfy human needs, (2) enhance environmental quality and protect the natural resource base, (3) be profitable, and (4) increase the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.