Interest from beyond the farming community has challenged the agricultural research system to change its priorities. Agricultural, corporate, scientific, political, environmental, and social communities are asking the system of state agricultural experiment stations to identify and to pursue a broadened range of research priorities.
A new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) reviews these challenges and outlines recommendations to improve how the U.S. agricultural research system serves its expanded client base.
Societal interest in the environmental impact of agricultural production practices has compelled agricultural scientists to focus beyond efficient, effective, and economical production and processing to environmental and health issues.
Dr. James R. Fischer of the South Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station, Clemson University, Clemson and Dr. James J. Zuiches of the Agricultural Research Center, Washington State University, currently at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, wrote the issue paper. It reviews results of a series of “futuring conferences” and other studies that examined the research system.
“Many colleges of agriculture and Land Grant universities across the United States are in the process of change,” Dr. Fischer said. “These changes are driven by the need to form a new social bond between themselves and the public. I have seen consensus building among agricultural leaders on the need to establish research agendas with input from consumers as well as farmers. There are numerous other dramatic shifts, which we in agricultural research can expect as we move into the 21st Century.”
The Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP) of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) developed a list of priorities for future agricultural research, which target four areas–the environment; sustainable production systems; economies of rural communities; and consumer interests, including food safety and quality. Challenges for the Land Grant university system include:
“The basic challenge is to create a new social contract between the public and higher education and specifically agricultural research programs,” according to Dr. Zuiches.
“This social contract is a mutually agreed upon commitment to common goals. The problem is the goals are changing from the perspective of the emerging constituents and the traditional constituents; yet the academic community has been slow to demonstrate that it too is changing.
“Farmers want state of the art varieties for new markets and solutions to pest problems as soon as possible. Rural nonfarm residents and urban residents want clean water, a safe environment, jobs, and economic growth, as well as safe, high-quality food,” said Dr. Zuiches.
Dr. Fischer said, “It is clear that we need to continue our dialogue at the national level. We must continue to share our experiences and take advantage of these new opportunities to serve the citizens in our states.”
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