Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030

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For nearly a century, scientific advances have fueled progress in U.S. agriculture. As one of the most productive sectors of the U.S. economy, producers have achieved dramatic increases in output with simultaneously reduced inputs (such as land, labor, and chemicals) (Wang et al., 2018). Today’s farmers produce food for far more people using less land than in previous generations due to yield gains from advances in plant and animal breeding, mechanization, agricultural chemicals, and irrigation, among other improvements to agricultural production (Clancy et al., 2016). These advances have been the direct result of sustained historical investments in food and agricultural research, providing substantial social return on public investment with an estimated marginal payoff of $32.1 per dollar invested (Alston et al., 2011). Food and agricultural innovations have enabled the delivery of safe and abundant food domestically and supported a trade surplus in bulk and high-value agricultural commodities (USDA-ERS, 2018).

In the near future, the strength and responsiveness of the U.S. food and agricultural system will be tested. Recent analyses have warned that as a consequence of the growing world population, agricultural production worldwide will have collective difficulty in meeting the global demand for food and fiber (Valin et al., 2014). Achieving the higher level of productivity needed—itself a formidable task—will not be sustainable without innovative solutions to challenges posed by shortages of arable land and water, the degradation of ecosystems, and the negative impacts of climate change.

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