The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation today announced the appointments of Neil Dierks of the National Pork Producers Council, Chris Novak of the National Corn Growers Association, Erik Olson of Natural Resources Defense Council, and Richard Wilkins of the American Soybean Association to its board of directors.
“Our new board members bring a wealth of expertise and expand the range of voices urging an expansion of the USDA’s food and agricultural science programs,” said Thomas Grumbly, President of the SoAR Foundation. “The US agricultural sector needs more science-driven innovation to respond to the coming decades’ many challenges.”
The new board members include:
- Neil Dierks, Chief Executive Officer, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Dierks has served the NPPC and its constituents since 1990 and was honored by the American Society of Animal Science for his advocacy in 2015. Prior to his service with NPPC, Dierks held leadership positions with the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. He grew up on a livestock farm in eastern Iowa and remains involved in a family farming operation.
- Chris Novak, Chief Executive Officer, National Corn Growers Association. Novak joined the organization in October 2014, after six years as CEO of the National Pork Board, the pork industry’s national checkoff program. Before his work with NPB, he served as executive director of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and the Indiana Corn Growers Association.
- Erik Olson, Senior Strategic Director, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Olson has 30 years of experience working on public policy and consumer advocacy, helping to lead the coalition effort that supported the passage of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Before joining NRDC, he served as deputy staff director and general counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and also served as Senior Director of Food Programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
- Richard Wilkins, President, American Soybean Association. Wilkins, a farmer from Greenwood, Delaware, is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation Soybean Advisory Committee. His operations include 400 acres of soybeans, 400 acres of corn, 250 acres of wheat, 100 acres of barley, 200 acres of vegetables, and 250 acres of hay, and 150 head of beef cattle.
“We have begun a new era in the effort to modernize and transform American agricultural research,” said Dr. William Danforth, Chairman of the Board of the SoAR Foundation and Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis. “All four of our new colleagues understand the need for more science because they have seen what both farmers and consumers need. Only through wise policies and sufficient funding can the US continue to be a leader in global agriculture.”
The SoAR Foundation works with a non-partisan coalition of scientific, consumer and producer groups to promote the importance of federally funded agricultural research and, in particular, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)—the flagship competitively awarded grant program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The competitive process that AFRI uses to award grants applies the best scientific research to the challenges that farmers and consumers face. Funding is based on merit, and proposals are rigorously peer-reviewed. In the last four years, AFRI’s review process identified $3.85 billion in grants worthy of funding. However, with a limited annual budget, the program could only award $950 million—less than a quarter of the science that the program’s expert panels deemed worthy.
The science funded by AFRI has led to numerous breakthroughs in farming and food production. According to the USDA, 15 percent of US wheat acreage is now planted using cultivars developed from AFRI projects.
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For more information on AFRI and the proposed budget increase, please read:
- USDA fact sheet on AFRI and its successes:
- New York Times opinion piece co-authored by SoAR Foundation board members Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel laureate and professor at M.I.T., and Alan Leshner, C.E.O. Emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
About the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation
The SoAR Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition working to educate stakeholders about the importance of agricultural research and focus more of our best minds on feeding America and the world. The SoAR Foundation advocates for full funding for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) to encourage top scientists from multiple disciplines to address agriculture-related challenges in order to improve public health and strengthen our economic competitiveness.