Kansas State University is one of 13 prominent research institutions in the United States that joined the SoAR Foundation today in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. “Retaking the Field,” a report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.
“The ‘Retaking the Field’ report highlights the impact of the publicly funded land grant university system in responding to grand challenges around food and agricultural production, now and into the future,” said Ernie Minton, Kansas State University associate dean of research and graduate programs. “In Kansas, agriculture drives the economy. It is the state’s largest industry and the state’s largest employer. As Kansas’ land grant university, K-State strives to serve that industry as an important provider of new technologies, not only in the area highlighted in this report, but many areas where we have unique strengths in water, crops, livestock and other mission-focused research. However, state and federal investments in food and agricultural research must expand to ensure that needed technologies emerge at a pace that meets future production challenges.”
“Retaking the Field” looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Even though every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.
“The first introduction of PEDv (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus) into the U.S. swine industry in 2013 was devastating with approximately 60 percent of the sow herds becoming infected with many herds reporting 100 percent piglet mortality at the onset of the infection,” said Jason Woodworth, Kansas State University research associate professor. Woodworth and his team first confirmed pig feed as a path of transmission for the virus. Their efforts are highlighted in the report.
“At Kansas State, we quickly put together a team that combined our strengths in applied swine nutrition, feed science, and veterinary medicine and partnered with experts at the Iowa State University Vet Diagnostic Laboratory to conduct research studies that successfully generated information for pork producers and feed manufacturers to identify ways to mitigate PEDv risk,” Woodworth said. “Our work focused on ways to manufacture or treat feed that would reduce cross contamination with the ultimate goal to prevent the spread of the virus to new farms. Our work was sponsored by the National Pork Board and it was their quick call to action that allowed the U.S. swine industry to become better educated about this virus and to ultimately find ways to minimize the spread of PEDv.”
The K-State team played a critical role in containing the outbreak. The cumulative incidence of PEDv infections dropped from 56 percent in 2013-14 to 6 percent in 2015-16.
“Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources, and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the SoAR Foundation. “However, the science behind agriculture and food production is starved of federal support at a time of unprecedented challenges. A new surge in public funding is essential if our agricultural system is going to meet the needs of American families in an increasingly competitive global market.”
Farming has never been an easy endeavor and today’s challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues and U.S. production is also threatened by new pests and pathogens, like the 2015 Avian Influenza outbreak that led to the culling of 48 million birds in 15 states and $2.6 billion in economic damages.
“Every year, the director of national intelligence testifies before Congress that our national security is threatened by hunger in unstable regions,” Grumbly said. “As the number of people on our planet continues to grow, we must produce more food. This cannot be done with yesterday’s science. We need a larger infusion of cutting-edge technologies.”
The “Retaking the Field” report can be downloaded at http://supportagresearch.org/retakingthefield/
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The “Retaking the Field” report profiles 13 groundbreaking science teams at premier public and private universities across the US. Highlights include:
Cornell University: David Just, PhD, figured out how to use the marketing strategies used to sell candy in grocery stores to get kids to make healthier choices in school cafeterias.
Iowa State University: Lisa Schulte Moore, PhD and Matthew Helmers, PhD, found that interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soy crops reduces nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, provides habitat for pollinators and improves water quality without significantly sacrificing production.
Kansas State University: Jason Woodworth, PhD, identified feed as a pathway for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) transmission for pigs and developed processes for preventing its spread.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Colette L. Heald, PhD, examined the synergy between climate change and air pollution. She calculated how crop adaptations to changing weather patterns are impacted by ground-level ozone.
North Carolina State University: Rodolphe Barrangou, PhD, uses the CRISPR gene editing technology to trace the precise routes that foodborne pathogens take from production facilities to consumers. He is also applying the CRISPR process to eliminate virulent strains of E. coli.
Purdue University: Phillip Owens, PhD, developed a process to integrate satellite data and landscape features with ground samples to create 3D maps of soil characteristics, which help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize production while conserving resources.
Stanford University: Elizabeth Sattely, PhD, uses a tobacco plant variety to manufacture a chemotherapy agent, which enables a potential means for producing less expensive and life-saving pharmaceuticals.
Tuskegee University: Woubit Abdela, PhD, Temesgen Samuel, PhD, and Teshome Yehualaeshet, PhD, developed a test for 25 strains of salmonella that can be done onsite in less than an hour instead of a two-week offsite process. They are also designing nanoparticles to remove food pathogens.
University of California, Davis: Bart C. Weimer, PhD, is using DNA sequencing to build a library of foodborne pathogens to assist health authorities around the world in controlling outbreaks.
University of Florida: Carrie Lapaire Harmon, PhD, developed an early detection lab for Florida’s diversifying agricultural sector to identify emerging pathogens before they cause epidemics.
University of Illinois: Scott Irwin, PhD, produced a web portal that disseminates research and commodity analyses along with online tools that help farmers leverage new policies to improve their operations.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Suat Irmak, PhD, examines farm irrigation needs and determines which technologies are best suited for Nebraska crops. He established a network that saved 1.8 million acre-feet of groundwater—enough to refill the state’s largest lake.
Washington University in St. Louis: Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, found that the impacts of malnutrition can be addressed by targeting the development of microbial communities in children’s digestive tracts.