Iowa State University Joins 12 Public and Private Universities Calling for Increased Federal Investment in Agricultural Research in Response to Modern Challenges

Lisa Schulte Moore conducts research that intersperses prairie strips into row crops to improve water quality and pollinator habitat.

AMES, Iowa —Iowa 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, the 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.

“We need to think differently about how we call for a common message in support of making food, agricultural and natural resources research a higher national priority,” said Wendy Wintersteen, Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. “The Retaking the Field report illustrates the kind of innovative research ongoing at our universities and the benefits possible for the public good if the nation invests more in this critical area of research.”

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.

In the Retaking the Field report, Iowa State researchers Lisa Schulte Moore and Matthew Helmers outline efforts to protect soil and water by interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soybean crops. The practice of STRIPS — Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips — helps to improve water quality by reducing sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff without sacrificing row crop production. The practice also provides habitat for pollinators.

“Farmers respond to data,” said Schulte Moore, an associate professor of natural resource ecology and management. “It’s our job to provide them with the best possible information for managing their fields to meet a variety of goals. Our next step is to work with additional farmers and partners in Iowa and beyond to implement the practice and monitor results.”

“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,” said Tom Grumbly. “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.”

# # #

About Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Iowa State University’s agricultural programs are ranked among the top 10 worldwide. The Agriculture Experiment Station, administered by ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is Iowa’s only public agricultural research program and has served the state for more than 125 years. Research expenditures were nearly $128 million in 2014-2015 by scientists supported by the College and Agriculture and Life Sciences and Agriculture Experiment Station. Agricultural scientists at Iowa State generate innovations, technologies, and solutions to immediate needs in food security, human health, economic development and environmental stewardship. Science-based information from Iowa State reaches every county in Iowa through ISU Extension and Outreach and research and demonstration farms guided by local stakeholders. Last fall, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences set its fourth consecutive annual enrollment record. The college’s 27 undergraduate majors prepare students for careers spanning the study of food, environment, energy, climate, nutrition and science and technology.

About SoAR
The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition working to educate stakeholders about the importance of agricultural research and focus more of our best minds on feeding America and the world. SoAR advocates for full funding for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) to encourage top scientists from multiple disciplines to address agriculture related challenges in order to improve public health and strengthen our economic competitiveness.


Editor's Note: The Retaking the Field report can be downloaded here. The report profiles 13 groundbreaking science teams at premier public and private universities across the United States. 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.