Dear US ASPB members:
A very important report, “Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Program,” was recently published by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. A large portion of the researchers in our community are, have been, or will be funded through AFRI. Because it is the principal funding agency supporting plant science research and training in the agricultural space, we have a vested interest in its continued growth and success.
In an effort to facilitate the improvement of AFRI and its ability to leverage cutting edge science to address societal needs with regard to the provision of food, fuel, and fiber, ASPB actively supported the NRC review of AFRI. Some of you may recall that we circulated a survey via the monthly Member Chatter to solicit your views and perspectives on the issues being considered by the NRC committee. The results of your feedback were then used to craft a presentation delivered by Peggy Lemaux, then serving as ASPB President, to the NRC committee. All of ASPB’s top concerns were addressed by this NRC report.
Briefly, some of the major issues articulated in ASPB’s comments that were addressed in the NRC review of the AFRI program were as follows:
- Front and center in our remarks to the committee was the issue of the general lack of funding for research, especially plant research. In response, the NRC called for the increased “public investment in competitive agricultural R&D to ensure [the United States] continues its role of a global leader in the innovations and technologies that are needed to promote health and well-being and to feed growing worldwide populations sustainably.”
- Second, we shared the ASPB community’s concern about the current generation of young scientists, especially assistant professors, who are in their first positions and need to launch their research programs in order secure tenure. The NRC concluded that “AFRI should carefully examine the causes of the decline in the numbers of applicants, awardees, and trainees and adjust its grant programs to ensure that future generations of young scientists are not lost inadvertently from food and agriculture R&D because of funding policies.”
- A third area of concern was the unpredictable cycling of grant priorities. In response, the NRC report urges AFRI to 1) “develop a strategic plan that identifies priorities for its overall program goals…” and 2) “have a more consistent and predictable program portfolio and funding strategy to enable better planning by the food and agricultural research community.”
ASPB will continue to engage USDA around the concerns of our community and the recommended remedies proposed by the NRC. Further, we will use the report as an opportunity to advance the goals set forth by the “Plant Science Decadal Vision.” To learn more about the NRC review of the AFRI program, please click here to view the report prepared by Lewis-Burke Associates, ASPB’s government relations consultants, and click here to view the full report. As always, please feel free to share your comments and questions with ASPB’s director of legislative and public affairs, Tyrone Spady.
Alan M. Jones, Ph.D.
President, American Society of Plant Biologists