The group AGree on Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive report on food and ag research, including nine recommendations to strengthen the impact of public research dollars by reforming the system.
The report, Research and Innovation: Strengthening Agricultural Research, also makes the case for increased research funding.
According to the group, research is essential to address pressing issues such as water shortages and animal diseases, while also bolstering the U.S. economy.
Targeting, tracking, and transparently sharing vital food and ag research will maximize the return on investment and build support for increasing that investment, the group says.
"We need to make a smart investment even smarter," said Deborah Atwood, Executive Director of AGree. "The need to modernize our research system has long been discussed behind closed doors – now it's time to have an open national conversation about needed changes."
AGree Co-Chair and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, long a champion of improving ag research efforts, said progress is evident in the research sector but it's time to maximize return on the dollar.
Maximizing investment "begins with Congress holding a series of oversight hearings examining long-established federal funding models with fresh eyes. I'm pleased with the interest we've received from the Hill and eager to move this ball forward," Glickman said.
Another former USDA official and AGree Co-Chair, previous U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, said the ag issues ranging from water shortages to antibiotic use and from nutrition to animal diseases demand sharply-focused, well-funded research.
"We need increased investment in food and ag research while we pursue opportunities to strengthen the research enterprise through reforms," Merrigan said.
The nine recommendations in the report were developed based on meetings held across the country throughout a two-year period involving more than 100 people. They were further informed by five Point of View papers commissioned by AGree, and guided by the direct engagement and insight of AGree Co-Chairs and Advisors.
1. Scrutinize and modernize federal funding mechanisms for public research, education, and extension to foster innovation and maximize public benefits.
2. Review and reset publicly-funded research priorities periodically, employing a transparent process with input from multiple stakeholders and end users to ensure that funds are focused on high-impact areas.
3. Minimize duplicative efforts and unnecessary costs by assessing the existing research infrastructure and improving grant monitoring and tracking systems.
4. Target public research funding to areas unlikely to be addressed by private industry.
5. Increase Congressional oversight of the U.S. agricultural research enterprise.
6. Make data, information, and findings from publicly-funded research accessible.
7. Strengthen the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Scientist to help ensure the U.S. continues to serve as a global leader on food and agricultural research and innovation.
8. Integrate research, education, and extension activities to promote coordination across each of these three interconnected elements at the university level.
9 Maintain U.S. leadership and engagement in international food and agricultural research.
AGree's next steps include bringing together a coalition that will build smart, long-term changes to the public food and agricultural research enterprise.
AGree will also build partnerships to advocate for near-term changes to include re-examining USDA's Research, Education and Economics mandate and practices.
Read the full report Research and Innovation: Strengthening Agricultural Research online.