This week, Lisa Schulte Moore, a scientist at Iowa State University, received a $625,000 “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation for developing sustainable agriculture techniques for corn and soy farming. Dr. Moore’s work received an initial boost with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
Dr. Schulte Moore’s work provides many answers to the critical questions that farmers face today. And like so many established scientists today, funding grants from the USDA helped to launch her career.
Dr. Schulte Moore and her colleagues found that interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soy crops reduces the nitrogen and phosphorous runoff that takes place during strong rainstorms. The prairie strips also provide habitat for pollinators and improve water quality without significantly sacrificing production. The SoAR Foundation highlighted Dr. Moore’s work in our first Retaking the Field report.
The prairie strips initiative received funding from USDA’s AFRI program, which provides funding through a rigorous peer-reviewed process. Congress has authorized its budget to be as much as $700 million but has never allocated the full amount. With a limited annual budget—currently at $435 million—the program cannot fund all the science that the program’s expert panels deem worthy.
In the 1940s, almost 40% of American research and development spending was focused on agriculture. Today, agriculture research only accounts for 2% of federal research and development spending. According to the USDA, total agricultural production has slowed significantly since the turn of the century.
U.S. farmers face so many obstacles. We need the USDA research budget to be as supercharged as the superstorms now slamming into soy and corn fields across the country. The Build Back Better Act being debated on Capitol Hill this week can also help provide a welcome boost for solutions-focused science.