An Echo Press Editorial: Investment in ag research pays off

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial

Tuesday, March 21 marked the 50th anniversary of National Ag Day and classrooms and communities across the country celebrated the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives.

Just having one day set aside to celebrate all things agriculture falls short of recognizing the enormous contributions farmers and the ag industry provide all year long and through generations of families.

The newspaper received a newsletter from the University of Minnesota that included an interview with Brian Buhr, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the university.

He reflected on the last 50 years in the industry and answered questions about what farmers can expect the next 50 years will bring. Here are some highlights:

Question: When you think about the last 50 years in agriculture, what do you consider to be the biggest strides and successes?


Buhr: Throughout the last five decades, agricultural technology has been continuously and dramatically improved and modernized. Increases in both efficiency and sustainability have abounded in everything from machinery and inputs to plant genetics and new crop varieties. Tractors and combines have grown bigger and faster; fertilizers are better; plant breeding innovation has brought crops that are more resilient, resist pests and use fewer resources; soil testing has advanced; we have GPS and drone technology; and much more. As a result, farmers today produce more food on less land using less nutrient inputs. These advances are significant to our work to protect the planet for generations to come, as we continue to focus our scientific efforts and research on climate adaptation and mitigation.

Question: How will Minnesota play a role in agriculture’s future?

Buhr: For generations, agriculture and food systems have been at the heart of Minnesota, fueling our state’s economy and providing nourishment worldwide. Today, we have the distinct opportunity to make Minnesota the global leader in advancing food and agriculture research, education and outreach. As part of a public-private partnership and in collaboration with Riverland Community College in Austin, we’re exploring the development of an integrated advanced agricultural research complex in Mower County known as the Future of Advanced Agricultural Research in Minnesota (FAARM). This will be a first-of-its-kind complex that serves as a catalyst for research, innovation and economic development. It will offer integrated innovation, instruction and visionary technology that fuel the growth of rural economies while working to solve the world’s grand challenges, including adapting to and mitigating climate change.

Question: Is there any particular technology that you think is poised to make a significant impact on agriculture?

Buhr: Over the centuries, advances in agriculture have moved from mechanical (using machines to do the work), to chemical (such as applying pesticides and herbicides), to biological (the Green Revolution), to current major breakthroughs with digital data. This is a huge step in the natural evolution of agriculture, and it is happening at the U of M in a big way with our agri-food informatics initiative. It works with agricultural data from farm entities big and small, curating it, making it interoperable (able to talk to each other) and analyzing it both short and long term. This makes it possible to create research-ready agri-food data and turn it into actionable information, which is game-changing in addressing the many issues facing local and global agri-food systems today, from climate change and pests to diseases and markets.

Question: As you look ahead to the next 50 years, what do you think will be the biggest challenges for the industry?

Buhr: We will continue to be challenged with finding new, more and better ways to sustainably feed our world’s growing population while providing successful livelihoods for farmers and protecting our environment. To do this, it is imperative that we invest in agricultural research and development (R&D). Agricultural innovations are a formidable challenge, and there are often gaps of a decade or more between investment in ag R&D and having new crop technologies available to farmers. Currently the need for ag R&D investment is much greater than the supply. A recent report from the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation found that research investment generated returns of 10 times the amount invested over the past 50-some years. This means that on average, a dollar invested today brings a future return equivalent to $10 in present day value. We must prioritize investment in ag R&D.

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