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AGree Publishes NSAC Paper on Reorienting Federal Research

June 25, 2013

AGree, an initiative to address critical challenges facing the food and agricultural system through long-term, collaborative engagement, recently published a compilation of five papers addressing reforms to the U.S. public sector agricultural research, including one submitted by NSAC.

Earlier last year, AGree had solicited papers that provided ideas and innovations on how to strengthen the U.S. public sector agricultural research system with the intention of using the papers to contribute to the development of recommendations to transform federal food and agricultural policy.

The five papers solicited by AGree focus on several aspects of the public research enterprise, including:

  • distribution of USDA capacity funds to land-grant universities;
  • improving information management and data sharing related to federally funded research;
  • stakeholder engagement and the role of boards in advising USDA;
  • building a research agenda focused on biologically diversified farming systems; and
  • integrating the principles of sustainable agriculture into USDA’s competitive research portfolio.

NSAC has advocated for over two decades for implementation of and funding for research, education, and extension (REE) programs that enhance food production, increase farming opportunities, protect natural resources and the environment, and foster the vitality of rural communities, including such programs as the long-standing Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program which will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.

NSAC staff, Ferd Hoefner, Ariane Lotti, and Juli Obudzinski, along with Meredith Niles of the University of California, Davis, authored one of the AGree papers published this week, entitled “Strengthening the US Agricultural Research, Education and Extension System: A Reorientation Model to Address 21st Century Challenges”.  With an emphasis on the principles and definition of sustainable agriculture, the paper presents a framework to fundamentally change the REE system in the U.S. and prioritize federally-funded research that supports sustainable production systems.

In this paper, NSAC promotes the development and application of sustainability criteria that will encourage USDA to apply a broad and consistent framework to assess how research in the overall REE portfolio contributes to the goal of agricultural sustainability, including:

  • implementing an external review and evaluation of the USDA REE portfolio to assess its compliance with sustainable agriculture goals;
  • applying a set of sustainability criteria to proposals during the grant solicitation and review process; and
  • developing internal education initiatives within USDA to educate staff, peer-reviewers, and applicants.

In the paper, NSAC also proposes placing a priority on systems-based, participatory, and interdisciplinary research in order to broaden the focus of REE programs and address the diversity of stakeholders within U.S. agriculture that can contribute to solving some of the complex challenges our current production system faces.

The NSAC paper also suggests USDA implements technology assessments to gauge impacts of new and existing technologies and reinstate the Agriculture Science and Technology Review Board in order to take a more proactive and forward-thinking role in evaluating the potential impacts of new and emerging technologies.

Finally, NSAC recommends that USDA improve evaluation, outreach and communications strategies, employing clear monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, increasing access to publicly-funded research, and requiring a broader impacts section for grant proposals.

AGree will continue to engage stakeholders within the broader research community in order to inform their emerging recommendations on how to strengthen the public agricultural research, education, and extension system.  There has been increased attention on the importance of agricultural research in recent years, including the release and recommendations included within a recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on whether or not the U.S. is prepared to meet the agricultural challenges of the future.

The compilation of five papers released by AGree is available here.

Categories: Research, Education & Extension

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