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Science roadmap charts ag's future
By Eva Ann Dorris
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The chapters in the history of American agriculture reveal a phenomenal success story. However, some of the nation's top research scientists believe there is even more potential in the future.
The scientists, an appointed task force of the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy, recently published a handbook titled "A Science Roadmap for Agriculture: Seven Challenges to Meeting our Nation's Agricultural Goals." The handbook is a result of brainstorming sessions among 24 scientists from throughout the nation.
One member of the elite group responsible for the roadmap is Robert P. Wilson, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. He said the scientists believe the rapidly evolving world of science and agriculture calls for a new approach to defining needs and setting priorities for agricultural research and education. The roadmap outlines seven areas that must gain the attention of the scientific research community.
"Agriculture has been a success story, but where do we go from here?" Wilson asked. "We've improved the production and management side of agriculture. We've improved genetics. And now we have to use the new biotechnology to produce more, or perhaps produce specialty or niche, crops.
"I don't think anyone would question that the products we are producing are the best in the world, but we have to figure out how to be sure farmers are rewarded for doing that," he said.
Wilson's involvement in the group was a natural complement to responsibilities he recently completed for the National Research Council's Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and to his more than 30-year career as an agricultural educator and researcher.
Wilson said the roadmap identifies the type of future research and manpower that will be needed in 10 to 15 years.
The seven challenges identified by the scientists include developing new and more competitive crop products and new uses for diverse crops; developing new products and new uses for animals; reducing the risks of local and global climatic change on food, fiber and fuel production; providing the information and knowledge needed to further improve environmental stewardship; improving economic returns to the producer; strengthening families and communities; and ensuring food safety and health throughout the food production chain.
The task force projects the national agricultural research system will need significant new resources -- almost $6 billion in new funding -- if the roadmap is to provide its intended direction. The funding could be provided from a variety of sources, but Wilson said the majority will come from the government through increased federal investment in the land-grant university system.
The publication, prepared by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy, is being distributed to assist decision makers and advocates as they plan for future program areas for the research and education system. Copies of the report are available upon request from NERA@umail.umd.edu.
Contact: Dr. Robert Wilson, (662) 325-7740