Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in February 2020 the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, with a goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40%, while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. One component of the AIA is the formulation of a U.S. Agriculture Innovation Strategy – seeking to establish discovery goals that align with or inform both the public and private-sector research ecosystems.
As part of its ongoing efforts, USDA released its U.S. Agriculture Innovation Strategy Directional Vision for Research to help guide future research decisions within USDA. Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Scott Hutchins says the strategy is based on input and follow up discussions from stakeholders.
“We formulated a series of discovery goals; things we believe that will really set the stage and allow the United States to meet that 40-50 goal of the Ag Innovation Agenda,” Hutchins says. “Innovation and ingenuity have always been key to solving critical agricultural production challenges and will also be critical for addressing new and emerging challenges on the horizon—and our stakeholders advocated for some truly bold goals.”
USDA collected hundreds of responses through the Request for Information and stakeholder-led workshops. Respondents were asked to identify transformational research goals for the next era of agriculture productivity and environmental conservation. They were also asked to propose approaches to these opportunities around four innovation cluster areas (Genome Design, Digital Automation, Prescriptive Intervention, and Systems Based Farm Management), and to identify gaps, barriers, and hurdles to meeting these goals.
This report summarizes the extensive stakeholder input and defines discovery goals that will help inform research to best address the AIA for the next 10 to 30 years.
Within the strategy, Hutchins adds, it provides a public dashboard and creates the ability for the private and public sector to synergize ag research efforts. Stakeholders and customers can use the dashboard to take a deeper dive into the data to gain insights on agricultural innovation opportunities over three time horizons, including near-term solutions, longer-term transformational solutions, and next era concepts.
The report notes the dashboard provides an intuitive interactive interface for exploring the data by various topic areas and allows for generating customized reports that focus on areas of interest (e.g., genome design solutions for crops; digital and automated solutions across all topic areas, etc.).
“It is intended to be a living product that connects discovery goal areas to ongoing areas of intramural and extramural research, funding opportunities, cutting-edge areas of science, and linkages to public/private efforts. The goal is to help people and companies engage with the U.S. Agriculture Innovation Strategy by enabling data exploration based on areas of interest, and rapid identification of people, programs, and funding to stimulate engagement,” the strategy says.
Hutchins adds, “We’re not just doing the science and research, but we’re really looking to have an outcome from that science and research that’s in alignment with the goals of the innovation agenda.”
Kevin Scott, soy grower from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president says ASA grower-leaders and staff spent many hours crafting ideas and offering recommendations to USDA on how to better position American agriculture for future success through innovation aimed at improved production, environmental sustainability and market development. “We are appreciative that USDA incorporated high level, agenda-oriented recommendations provided by ASA, as well as more specific research and innovation-enabling proposals.”
Many recommendations submitted by ASA and subsequently included by USDA align with priorities the grower group has shared with the incoming Biden administration and speak to how innovation can act as a tool for successfully increasing productivity while reducing the environmental footprint, ASA notes.
A predominant theme of ASA’s recommendations to USDA was that innovations in productivity and sustainability must be viewed through the lens of economic sustainability, seeking to ensure that significant increases in productivity do not have a destabilizing effect on markets.
Kyle Kunkler, ASA director over innovation, says this project should demonstrate how farmer-leaders can collaborate across administrations to achieve long-term goals important to agriculture and the greater public: “We believe this focus on economic stability, coupled with increases in productivity and environmental sustainability, will allow soybean growers to continue to feed and fuel a growing global population in a way that will result in reduced environmental impact from production and end-products.”