Agency Update: USDA Releases Agriculture Innovation Agenda

On February 20, the Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Scott Hutchins announced the long-anticipated Agriculture Innovation Agenda. This effort has been a long-term priority of Deputy Under Secretary Hutchins and outlines target objectives for a future innovation strategy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Agenda identifies several clear benchmark objectives for American agriculture:

  • Increase U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent by 2050.
  • Build landscape resiliency by investing in active forest management and forest restoration through increased Shared Stewardship Agreements with states.
  • Reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent in the United States by the year 2030.
  • Enhance carbon sequestration through soil health and forestry to achieve a “net reduction of the agricultural sector’s current carbon footprint by 2050 without regulatory overreach.”
  • Reduce nutrient loss by 30 percent nationally by 2050.
  • Support renewable fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass.

This initial document serves as an outline of activities that USDA will undertake in the coming year. Among these activities, USDA is committed to creating a comprehensive agriculture innovation strategy. To develop this strategy, USDA will release a request for information (RFI) to solicit stakeholder feedback. USDA intends to develop this RFI using the National Academies’ 2018 consensus report Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030, which includes detailed recommendations to address agricultural challenges guided by five themes: transdisciplinary and systems approaches to agricultural research, advanced sensing, data science, gene editing, and microbiome sciences.

The Agenda also seeks to integrate innovative conservation technologies and practices into USDA programs and improve data collection and reporting.
While the Agenda does not identify specific research activities, Deputy Under Secretary Hutchins noted that the strategy will focus on four primary research areas: “genome design; digital and automation; prescriptive intervention; and systems-based farm management.” Notably, while the Agriculture Innovation Agenda comes less than two weeks after the release of the USDA Science Blueprint, which is intended to steer future science activities for the agency through 2025, the Agenda makes no mention of the goals or priority areas listed in the Blueprint.

Sources and Additional Information

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