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Make agriculture research a national priority

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Several years ago, I had a chairperson of one of my college’s external advisory boards who would begin every meeting the same way. He would tell the people around the table to take off their hats—the hats they wear everyday as leaders of diverse organizations with many specific priorities—and instead put on the hat of the college.

It was the chair’s way of getting people in the right frame of mind to consider how the group would think together and work together to advance our college programs for the benefit of our students, state and world.

That may be one way to think about a unifying message in support of agricultural research.

Last December, in an effort led by the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation, a report was released on Pursuing a Unifying Message: Elevating Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Research as a National Priority.

The report emphasized the pivotal moment that exists to build a new coalition to ensure the United States does not lose its global leadership in agricultural research, especially at a time of looming global challenges to food, climate, the environment, energy and more.

“Stagnant” is the preferred term to describe our nation’s investment in agricultural research over several decades. It’s put into sharper focus now: while other nations are accelerating their investment, our nation is sputtering. Last week, the topic of the Farm Foundation® Forum was “Tools to Fund Agricultural Research.” It was an excellent discussion, while reiterating the underlying message that the United States is on the verge of losing its position as a global leader in agricultural science.

The Pursuing a Unifying Message report outlines the opportunity and the key elements important to such an effort, including a broad definition of agriculture that encompasses the essentials of everyday life and a focus on research that benefits society and the public good.

As a follow-up to the report, I am leading a small task force that has begun to explore next steps to get us closer to a unifying message. It will take visionary leaders from many corners of both public and private sectors, and input and ideas from many perspectives on how to shape the future of the national agricultural research enterprise.

As the report states, connect the dots of every major societal challenge ahead and what emerges is the critical importance of food, agricultural and natural resources research. A unifying message in support of agricultural research may sound daunting, but it’s incredibly exciting. Here is an opportunity to think boldly about one of the critical issues of our time. Proposing that a host of diverse stakeholders join together in a common voice—it may not get much bolder than that.

What would success look like? A willingness for diverse organizations to see the big picture. Leaders who recognize the common ground and the shared vision found in scientific advances that benefit the public good. A willingness to stand together and stay on message. A willingness to work toward the goal of increased investment and make it one of the highest priorities, year after year.

In short, success looks like everyone wearing the same hat. It’s time to come together to don the hat of common support to make agricultural research a much higher national priority.

Wendy Wintersteen Wendy Wintersteen (
Endowed Dean College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Iowa State University

View more posts by Wendy Wintersteen

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.