Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Collaborations in Agriculture Research and Development Highlighted at the Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Natural Resources R&D Roundtable

ASA, CSSA, SSSA and the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation, in collaboration with United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Research, Education and Economics Mission Area, the USDA Forest Service and USDA’s National Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Economics Advisory Board, organized a Round Table to highlight the value of collaborations in agriculture research and development. Seventy participants gathered for the day-long event, held March 15 in Washington D.C. at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), to listen to presentations about and discuss public and private research and development collaborations in agriculture, food, nutrition and natural resources as a means for meeting the challenge of feeding future generations.

The day was organized into different sessions. Shere Abbott, the Associate Director for Environment of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President, provided a keynote address in the opening session. During her talk, Abbott addressed challenges linked to science and technology, why science matters, the Administration’s focus on sustainability and climate change and how agriculture and natural resources fit into that focus, and OSTP’s vision for addressing such challenges. She described how the federal government is addressing the challenges posed by climate change to agricultural sustainability by activities undertaken through the United States Global Change Research Program. Aligning with the day’s theme of collaborations and partnerships, Abbott emphasized the importance of inter-agency relationships that allow issues to be addressed beyond the scope of a single agency, highlighting USDA and the USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative. Abbott went on to describe OSTP’s support of research efforts and vision to create an "infrastructure of greater collaboration and greater outreach to end-users. This whole approach towards sustainability is designed with that link between science and decision-making. Public-private partnerships also can be strengthened to meet the magnitude and urgency of the needs.”, Abbott stated. In her conclusion she described the need for strong support of science and the need to develop funding structures for integrated R&D programs.

Following Abbott’s presentation was an overview of Federal R&D Budgets followed the keynote address, during which Caron Gala Bijl, Senior Science Policy Associate at ASA, CSSA, SSSA presented about food, nutrition, agriculture, and natural resource science programs and funding in the FY 12 Budget.

Dr. Cathie Woteki, Under Secretary for USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area talked about the challenge of preserving agricultural successes traced to research success in the face of budget constraints, in her presentation entitled “Science Agenda for the 21st Century” which launched the first session. Dr. Woteki articulated the danger in taking for granted the scientific insights that are needed to combat challenges of animal and plant disease or climate change which can affect the ability of farmers to produce important commodities and products. The President's proposed USDA budget “emphasizes the efficient and effective use of research and resources combined with leveraging strategic partnerships with other federal agencies, as well as with the private sector, to get the greatest return on our investments”. Woteki ascertained that despite the need for strong investments in the challenges facing our food and agricultural sector, because of the reality of the budget and need to address the federal deficit, cuts are part of the operational reality. Woteki conveyed steady assurance while making clear that despite such necessary cuts, the strategic increases proposed will "enable the REE agencies to continue to make new discoveries and to develop new technologies that contribute to the success of American agriculture from which all of us will benefit."

The presentations that followed illustrated eight successful case studies of federal agency and partner organization collaborations regarding crop production and water management, biofuels, conservation, pest control, wild land restoration, food safety, nutrition, and the bovine genome.

A link to the archived webcast of the event which documents all presentations and discussion can be viewed at: http://www.tvworldwide.com/events/farmfoundation/110315/default.cfm?id=13337&type=flv&test=0&live=0

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 2: Issues Facing Biofuels Research

During the second day of the workshop, participants were charged with prioritizing the issues identified the previous day and identifying areas where the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service could collaborate with stakeholders. Overall, every group put logistics and feedstock development towards the top of the list. Although environmental impacts remained a topic of concern, it did not top any of the lists. My only hope is that we can adapt life cycle assessments (LCA) that go beyond carbon, as LCAs are the tool of choice by industry to measure environmental impacts.

From my perspective, a factor limiting clear funding pathways for biofuels’ research is the interconnectedness among the different issues. Routinely throughout the workshop, we identified the need to keep all sectors of the supply chain interoperable. It appears that we may be at a standoff in terms of moving forward because of the reluctance of growers to invest the time and resources into biofuel feedstock production if there are few biofuel refineries that demand supply. Meanwhile, companies have difficulty securing loans to build biofuel refineries without proof of an available and consistent feedstock supply. At some point, long-term contracts between farmers and refiners will be needed to overcome such market apprehension.

Barbara Fricks
PhD Student, Colorado State University
NSF IGERT Multidisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable BioEnergy fellow

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 1 - USDA ARS Biomass Research Centers Customer & Research Planning Workshop

A Regional Approach to Biofuels

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) Biomass Research Centers Customer & Research Planning Workshop kicked off today (March 15) in Denver Colorado. Senior ARS program leaders Evert Byington and Jeffrey Steiner delivered the opening remarks. Kevin Kephart of South Dakota State University and Sun Grant Initiative delivered the kick off talk titled “Bioenergy Issues and Research Needs”. His talk addressed key areas of research needed to further biofuels and set the tone for the rest of the workshop. We then got a brief overview of the biofuel centers by Dr. Steiner and a quick run down on what was expected. The regional biofuels centers are tasked with developing region specific feedstocks and providing stakeholders with the needed information to rapidly advance adoption/implementation. Dr. Steiner explicitly outlined the goal of the workshop was for stakeholder input, and encouraged ARS staff to allow industry representatives to do most of the talking in the breakout sessions.

We then broke out into our regional groups. My group, primarily composed of individuals from the Western regions, focused primarily on oil seed crops. Members included people from industry, academia, national labs, ARS, and other federal agencies. We spent the entire day discussing key areas of research. Some of the areas we identified included: Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) standardization, increased access to economically viable feedstocks, putting fallow land back into production, and basic agronomic analysis of new candidates for oil seed crops such as camelina. Other groups also identified similar goals, with the need to standardize LCA analysis a central theme for all groups involved. It appeared industry was most concerned with using LCA analysis as a litmus test rather than a broader sustainable approach.

In my group soil quality definitely took a back burner. I was the only spokesman for soil quality and issues of converting marginal land into production, tillage, and residue removal. At the end of the day, however, it was reassuring to hear other groups also identified concerns over soil quality. One of the other groups even directly charged ARS with the task of developing guidelines not, rather than recommendations, when it came to residue removal for biofuels. By offering this workshop, I believe all the critical areas needed for research for biofuels were covered. Hearing industrial opinions offered new insights on the need to tackle key issues such as logistics if we are to move forward. I look forward to tomorrow’s sessions, where we can offer direct solutions for the problems addressed in today’s sessions.

This is the first post in a series of entries by Barbara Fricks covering the USDA ARS Biomass Research Centers Customer & Research Planning Workshop in Denver, Colorado. Barbara is a PhD Student at Colorado State University and an NSF IGERT Multidisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable BioEnergy fellow. She is also a former ASA, CSSA, SSSA Science Policy Intern.