Cuts to Agricultural Research & Education Threaten Global Food Security -- Barbara Allen-Diaz & Don Bransford
“Our Nation’s agricultural research enterprise is not prepared to meet the challenges that U.S. agriculture faces in the 21st century.” Report to the President on Agricultural Preparedness and the Agriculture Research Enterprise, Dec. 2012
The need to produce and deliver safe and nutritious food is a fundamental human concern. With world population expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, experts say that we will have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have in the last 10,000. Unfortunately, funding for vital agricultural research lags far behind other entities and is threatening the future health of our society.
In December, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended that the United States increase its investment in agricultural research by $700 million per year. Instead, the Sequester resulted in cuts of approximately 7.6%. This is simply not sustainable.
For more than 140 years, the University of California has conducted critical food, agricultural and natural resources research and public outreach that serve Californians, the nation, and the world. Farmers, ranchers, and consumers — including low-income and underserved communities — benefit from UC’s agricultural research that helps to ensure a safe, secure and plentiful supply of food and energy as well as clean and sustainable air, water and other natural resources.
In 2011, California farm revenue was $43.5 billion making California the nation’s top agricultural state. With the University of California as a vital partner, California produces more than 400 agricultural commodities, employing 800,000 workers on 81,500 farms. UC and other public universities conduct nearly two-thirds of federally funded academic research each year, spurring economic innovation — especially in agriculture.
Agricultural research and extension have helped make U.S. farmers among the most efficient in the world. Over the past thirty years, California has increased the production of milk by 44%, processing tomatoes by 69% and almonds by 122%. At the same time, new production methods have helped growers save 100,000 acre-feet of water a year. But our status as the world leader in agricultural production is threatened by the waning public investment in agricultural research and is crippling our ability to tackle the global food and water challenges of the 21st century.
Due to state and federal budget cuts over the past decade, the number of Cooperative Extension Specialists and Advisors has decreased by 38%. This has caused reductions in our Integrated Pest Management Program, Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program, Nutrition Education programs, Water Resources Center and the elimination of regional offices. While new partnerships and support from industry have helped, many of the developments necessary to meet these challenges are public goods not easily monetized, but long-term investments benefit us all. If the country continues to disinvest in basic agricultural research, the results will be devastating for the health and safety of our country and the world.
“If we act strategically today, we will gain invaluable benefits tomorrow, including enhanced food security, better nutrition, greener sources of energy, and healthier lives,” said Daviel Schrag, co-chair, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
We must all look to the future and see the opportunities generated by restoring and — whenever possible — growing funding for the core capacity programs which help underpin the infrastructure of land-grant colleges of food, agriculture, and natural resources and Cooperative Extension units across America. Working together, we can ensure a safe, healthy food supply for the planet.
QUEST Northern California, KQED’s award-winning multimedia science series, investigates genetically engineered crops in a half-hour documentary special, Next Meal: Engineering Food, on Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30pm on KQED 9. Next Meal explores how genetically engineered crops are made, their pros and cons, and what the future holds for research and regulations such as labeling in the wake of Proposition 37.
By Alec Rosenberg
Several themes emerged from the UC Global Food Systems Forum: Take a bottom-up approach. Focus on solutions. Pursue low-hanging fruit. Decrease food waste. Be practical. Be innovative. Involve education. But opinions differed on how to balance small- and large-scale farming, the role of genetically modified organisms, and what should be the most important area of focus.
More than 475 people attended the food forum in Ontario, Calif., which also reached a worldwide virtual audience. A live webcast received 1,500 unique viewers from 34 countries, while a steady stream of tweets at #Food2025 made the conversation a trending topic on Twitter. With more than 1 billion people going hungry every day and 1 billion people overweight, the conversation was timely.
"We must act now to improve the food and nutrition supply of people in poor countries and communities throughout the world," said keynote speaker Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.
The daylong forum, part of ANR's statewide conference, addressed the challenges faced by food producers, suppliers and consumers in a world of growing population, strains on natural systems, climate change, shifting geopolitics and other converging forces. The event convened some of the world's leading experts — farmers, researchers, policymakers, economists, environmentalists and others — with the New Yorker's Michael Specter moderating a global panel and author and journalist Mark Arax moderating a California panel. The speakers offered thoughtful insights and solutions.
"This is fundamental to our mission as a land-grant university," said UC ANR Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz. "Our goal is to take these brilliant ideas and turn them into brilliant plans of action."
By capturing water from rainfall and reducing evaporation, farmers could boost yields, said panelist Garrison Sposito, a UC Berkeley professor of ecosystem sciences and environmental engineering. Panelist Komal Ahmad, a 2012 UC Berkeley graduate, launched Feeding Forward, a startup that uses technology to streamline food donation, decreasing hunger while reducing waste. Panelist Howard-Yana Shapiro, who called for "uncommon collaborations," has increased the sustainability of cocoa at candy maker Mars Inc., where he is chief agricultural officer along with being a senior fellow at UC Davis.
What's the best way to feed the planet? Keynote speaker Wes Jackson, founder and president of the Land Institute, called for a focus on natural systems. Organic farmer Paul Muller, co-owner of Full Belly Farm, advocated for a Jeffersonian perspective of stewardship and self-reliance.
Meanwhile, Stuart Woolf, president and CEO of Woolf Farming and Processing, whose crops include almonds, pistachios and grapes, focuses on a larger scale. He noted that his farm supplies multinational corporations.
"We all serve different markets," Woolf said. "I think there's an opportunity for all of us to do well."
Issues of quantity and access
Increasing food productivity isn't enough, some speakers said.
"If you can't afford food, it doesn't really matter how much there is," said panelist Ron Herring, a Cornell University professor of government.
"We are trying to look for the silver bullet solutions instead of focusing on poverty," said panelist Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute.
A place to start is listening to the poorest people, speakers said.
"We need a Food Corps that's the equivalent of the Peace Corps," said panelist Sol Katz, a University of Pennsylvania professor of physical anthropology and an expert in health economics.
Panelist Maarten Chrispeels, a UC San Diego distinguished professor emeritus of biology, encouraged people to spend a month in a small village and learn about life there. Panelist Rebecca Peters, a UC Berkeley student, already has gotten a head start, spending three months in Bolivia as part of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. "We need to think about the perspective of the people we're trying to serve," Peters said.
Several speakers said universities and can play a key role in educating the public and conducting research. Farmers and other panelists pointed to the contributions UC has made to advance farm productivity and sustainability. Panelist Jonathan Shrier, acting special representative for global food security with the U.S. State Department, mentioned examples that included UC research to develop flood-tolerant rice.
"This type of conference is important because it gets everybody thinking out of the box," said panelist Grant Chaffin, a Blythe farmer.
James McWilliams, a historian at Texas State University, farmers' markets have grown from 400 in 1970 to over 4,000 in 2009. But can we feed the world on farmers' markets alone? Will they really lower our carbon footprint?
Glenda Humiston, California State Director of USDA Rural Development and panelist at the Global Food Systems Forum, said no.
"We can't feed the world with farmers' markets, and if we're going to try, then let's talk carbon footprint." Said Humiston, in last week's webcast.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, it is not always more energy-efficient for consumers to purchase locally-grown food. Often times, eating locally grown products consumes much more energy than eating imported goods.
Additionally, according to an article by the New York Times, "It is impossible for most of the world to feed itself a diverse and healthy diet through exclusively local food production — food will always have to travel; asking people to move to more fertile regions is sensible but alienating and unrealistic; consumers living in developed nations will, for better or worse, always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer."
What do you think? Can we feed the world solely on farmers' markets?
A lot actually. UC researchers are working with farmers across the state to find ways to reduce their impact.
For example, water. Water is one of the biggest concerns in California - both quantity and quality. The San Joaquin River is the second largest water supplier, but also one of the more impaired water bodies. UC researchers have started working with farmers to restore wetlands and using them as agriculture buffers. This natural protection mechanism is preventing nitrates from reaching the San Joaquin River, and has helped stabilized nitrate levels in our drinking water.
Bovine Bubbles are another great example. UC researchers are using bovine bubbles to study the amount of greenhouse gasses cows produce, and how to reduce it. In the process, they've discovered that cows produce 3.4% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, contrary to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report in 2006 that stated livestock contributes 18% of global emissions.
"There's no other country in the world that uses fewer animals to produce a given amount of food than what we do here," says Frank Mitloehner, UC Air Quality Extension Specialist.
For example, in California, one cow equals 20,000 lbs of milk. In Mexico, one cow equals 4,000 lbs of milk, and in India, only 500 lbs of milk.
"From now on, every 11 years we add another billion people to the world population. Within my lifetime, the human population has doubled. And here comes the big problem: the land that we use to feed all the people in the world...is a set amount and cannot be increased," says Mitloehner.
It all comes back to sustainability. Can California continue to lead in agricultural sustainability? Will we be able to continue to increase yields to feed our growing population, while protecting and preserving our natural resources?
Comment below, and sign up for next week's Global Food Systems Forum live webinar to join the conversation.
UC scientists took a page from nature when they developed the Tango mandarin. Tango is the result of a mutation induced by irradiating budwood of W. Murcott mandarin. The process mimics nature’s manner of improving fruit. Radiation from the sun or natural errors during cell division can cause a single branch or fruit to mutate and develop unique characteristics, which scientists call a “sport.” People have been reproducing favorable sports for generations. In fact, all navel oranges are sports – natural mutations of oranges with seeds or other navel oranges.
W. Murcott mandarins, originally from Morocco, are favored for their deep orange color, easy-peel rind and tangy-sweet flavor. However, when planted within five miles of other seed-bearing citrus – such as Clementine mandarins, lemons or grapefruit – they can be cross-pollinated by bees and become seedy. The Tango maintains the best W. Murcott traits, but because it produces very little viable pollen, it is virtually seedless wherever it is grown.
“This is the most promising mandarin the university has ever produced,” said UC Riverside genetics professor Mikeal Roose.
The Tango mandarin was patented, and registered trees were established by the UC Citrus Clonal Protection Program. Distribution of budwood to citrus nurseries began in June 2006 and was limited exclusively to California growers for one year. Tango was introduced into Florida in 2007 and the trees were available internationally under exclusive licenses since 2009. Tango trees are available to home gardeners through retail nurseries.
The Tango was made possible by a UC and citrus industry partnership going back nearly 15 years. Roose and staff research associate Tim Williams began field testing the fruit in 2001. The research and evaluation program was supported by the Citrus Research Board.
“What’s exciting is the parent variety of the Tango is a good piece of fruit,” said Ted Batkin, director of the Citrus Research Board. “It is without a doubt the most widely planted variety that we have released in the past 25 years.”
California is the nation's leader in producing fresh citrus fruit, and many of the fruit is exported overseas, providing nutritious, low-calorie food to consumers worldwide.
The study also included researchers from Arcadia Biosciences and Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, India.
The finding is particularly important to the nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona, which together produce more than 90 percent of the nation's lettuce.
"Discovery of the genes will enable plant breeders to develop lettuce varieties that can better germinate and grow to maturity under high temperatures," said the study's lead author Kent Bradford, a professor of plant sciences and director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center.
"And because this mechanism that inhibits hot-weather germination in lettuce seeds appears to be quite common in many plant species, we suspect that other crops also could be modified to improve their germination," he said. "This could be increasingly important as global temperatures are predicted to rise."
With California temperatures predicted to rise by 2.7F by 2050, this study could prove to be extremely vital to California agriculture.
. We are the #1 producer of almonds, dairy, kiwi, grapes and grape products, vegetables, cut flowers, greenhouse and nursery products, dates, walnuts, olives, pistachios…and the list goes on. In fact, we produce 100% of the nation’s almond crop, and 75% of the world’s almond crop.
In 2011, California farm revenue was $43.5 billion. We produced more than 400 crops with 800,000 workers on 81,500 farms.
The University of California plays a big role in supporting California agriculture. UC is the largest public holder of agriculture and biotech patents registered in the United States—UC holds 627 active plant licenses. UC plant varieties account for 90% of California’s wheat, 65% of California strawberries, and 40% of strawberries worldwide.
Our UC researchers are working to meet the challenges of global food production by coming up with new innovations in animal care and breeding, plant varieties, irrigation and nutrient delivery, and pest and disease management practices.
Despite California’s abundant food production, 16.2% of California households are food insecure. And California crops are being threatened by climate change. California temperatures are projected to increase by 2.7° F by 2050—that’s 3 times the rate of the last century. California lettuce and spinach ($1.6 billion in value) is being threatened by increasing temperatures.
Our world is changing. What does that mean for California agriculture? What does that mean for global food systems? What does that mean for us, our families, our neighbors? What do we need to do to keep up?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Now imagine going to your local farmer's market, and seeing no locally-grown citrus. No oranges, no lemons, no grapefruits, no mandarins.
According to the Citrus Research Board, California's citrus industry generates approximately $1.8 billion in economic activity through commercial growing operations.
But that could all change if Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, gets a hold of our trees. The pest, and the disease it transmits, has the potential to completely decimate California citrus crops.
So far the disease-transmitting pest, asian citrus psyllid, has been found as far north as Tulare County. In 2012, the disease was found in Los Angeles County. In Florida, the disease has tallied more than 6,600 lost jobs, $1.3 billion in lost revenue to growers and $3.6 billion in lost economic activity according to CDFA.
The average American eats 12.5 pounds of citrus each year. California's citrus industry ranks 2nd in the U.S.
How do we prevent HLB from claiming our citrus trees? What would California look like without citrus? What would world agriculture look like without California citrus? Comment and let us know your thoughts.