August 13, 2018
The United States’ total federal investment in agricultural research has been flat for a long time, a fact that does not bode well for the future of our farm and food system. Not only does the research undertaken today have a profound impact on the what food and agriculture will be like a generation from now, but our chances of successfully tackling major societal challenges related to our current system are being seriously impeded by the lack of sufficient investment. Yet support for upping our game and securing our future through agricultural research sadly seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep in Washington policy circles.
With that thought in mind, over four years ago, the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation (RMF) started a process of pulling together a wide range of players in the research, education and extension space to work toward a unifying message that could help reverse the tide and prod policymakers to recommitting the U.S. to a world leadership role in agricultural research by simultaneously increasing resources and improving the system.
The “unifying message” endeavor has engaged a wide range of stakeholders from over 120 organizations in debate on how to make game-changing progress. Those discussions, and the overall framing for the project, are written up in eight reports in the RMF Unifying Message series.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is an official sponsor of the series, along with the National Corn Growers Association, Soil and Water Conservation Society, the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SOAR) Foundation, several disciplinary societies, and seven major land grant and other universities, with leadership by Iowa State University.
The most recent and final publication in the series, “A Unifying Message: Pulling Together. Increasing Support for Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Research” (June 2018), neatly summarizes our current predicament and the nature of the unifying message initiative. Earlier reports included highlights from meetings with commodity organizations, conservation and natural resource groups, nutrition and public health representatives, research agency heads, scientific societies, and universities. Each of those six reports is part of the overall eight-part series.
NSAC was a lead sponsor and facilitator of the natural resources meeting and report. Joining NSAC in that endeavor were the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Supporters of Agricultural Research, Iowa State University, the Tri Societies of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America, and the Soil Health Institute.
Having laid a solid foundation, the RMF Board of Directors is now trying to discern its next step in bringing a more unified message on re-investing in agricultural research to fruition. NSAC intends to stay engaged in that critical effort and at every turn highlight the need for sustainable agriculture research, education and extension efforts to be front and center.
In addition to the Unifying Message series, RMF has also recently published several other brief reports that are important looks into particular agencies and institutions that are part of the overall agricultural research effort. Two special reports were issued in June 2018, one pertaining to USDA’s Agriculture Research Service — “Agricultural Research Service: Specialized Agency Functions and University Relationships” – and one pertaining to research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service — “Forest Service Research and Development: Creating the Knowledge Needed to Manage America’s Forests Sustainably.” Earlier reports in the series deal with the Economic Research Service and Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture.
The RMF was founded in 1985 “to promote a broader and more complete understanding of agriculture as the most basic human endeavor and to enhance agriculture through increased scientific knowledge.” The Foundation’s namesake was a famed 19th century entomologist who became the first Chief Entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NSAC’s Senior Strategic Advisor, Ferd Hoefner, sits on the RMF Board. The Board also includes five leaders from major agricultural universities, three commodity group representatives, and several representatives of scientific disciplinary societies.
Categories: Research, Education & Extension