We are at a challenging time in U.S. agricultural history. The past ten years of data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that production—all of the food, fuel, fiber, and other materials that farmers grow—has stopped increasing. The trendline flattened out and is now pointed downwards.
Initially, this looked like just another hitch. Agricultural production grew steadily in the decades after World War II, but after the energy crisis of the early 1970s the trendline had been much more jagged. It’s not just the supply of energy needed for farming that has been unstable; available resources and farmland have also been far from steady. All of these problems have caught up with agriculture production this past decade, but more troubling is the lack of available solutions.
Agriculture and food production are linchpins of the U.S. economy. Innovation—driven by science—is key to sustaining the sector’s health and vitality. However, the federal commitment to agriculture and food science has declined since the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1950s and 1960s.
Agricultural research was once the biggest science field that the US government invested in—60 years ago, 40 percent of all federal research dollars went to the food sciences. But now, even though the overall amount of federal research has grown tremendously, agricultural research is only two percent of the total science budget.
Put simply, if we want US agriculture to grow once again, we need to invest in science. Science provides an astonishing number of opportunities to revolutionize agriculture, food production and human nutrition. We need a new age of exploration, re-examining how plants and animals develop and how food is made and eaten, so that we can meet environmental challenges as we maximize production once more.