Agriculture production that is sustainable in the long-term relies on diverse crop rotations, increased use of perennial species, and the integration of livestock in pasture-based systems. Sustainable and organic agricultural systems require plant varieties and animal breeds that do not depend on high levels of external inputs and that are selected to perform under a wide array of local climate conditions, forage availability, and pest regimes. A diversity of plant and animal genetic resources are also needed to address the growing challenges of global climate change, increasing pest and pathogen pressure, food security, safety and resiliency concerns, and shifting consumer preferences including a rapidly growing market for organically produced food. These genetic resources are a public good that should be maintained both for our current needs and for future generations.
In the past, these agricultural plant and animal genetic resources were maintained through a national agricultural research agenda that included publicly funded breeding programs and research on numerous species, breeds, and varieties. In addition, both the Land Grant University system and commercial markets provided a wide array of plants and animals to farmers and ranchers, many of whom undertook further breeding and selection to meet the local conditions of their farms and ranches. Policy and legal developments over the last few decades have resulted both in an erosion of the public commitment to maintain our agricultural genetic resources and an increase in barriers to the ability of individual farmers and ranchers to contribute to plant and animal genetic diversity. The nation’s agriculture is at a critical juncture, with our capacity to conserve and further develop crop and livestock varieties and breeds seriously limited.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, NSAC successfully established “conventional” (classical) plant and animal breeding as a research priority within the newly created Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. It also was successful at getting report language included that recognizes the importance of public breeding, further defining classical breeding, and encouraging a national program on classical breeding. However, since its implementation, AFRI has failed to a large extent, in actually funding classical plant and animal breeding research. NSAC will be continuing to advocate for increased funding for classical plant and animal breeding in the upcoming farm bill.
In 2003, NSAC completed a position paper entitled “Reinvigorating Public Plant and Animal Breeding for a Sustainable Future.” The paper includes 29 policy recommendations in Section III of the paper that constitute an agenda that NSAC has been using to win public resources to reinvigorate pubic domain plant and animal breeding programs. A number of the recommendations were developed through the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture.