The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently released its report on agricultural preparedness in the U.S.
Below is the Executive Summary.
The United States is the undisputed world leader in agricultural production today, but as we look out
across the 21st century, agriculture faces a series of challenges:
•• Managing new pests, pathogens, and invasive plants.
•• Increasing the efficiency of water use.
•• Reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture.
•• Growing food in a changing climate.
•• Managing the production of bioenergy.
•• Producing safe and nutritious food.
•• Assisting with global food security and maintaining abundant yields.
Meeting these challenges requires a renewed commitment to research, innovation, and technology
development in agriculture. Private industry will continue to play an important role meeting these
challenges in areas directly related to commercial developments and commodities. But many of the
developments necessary to meet these challenges are public goods and not easily monetized. These
challenges require a strong public commitment to agricultural research, one that fosters a culture of
innovation and excellence to address some of the greatest threats to U.S. long-term prosperity and
In January 2011, Catherine Woteki, the Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics, and
Roger Beachy, then-Director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, spoke to the President’s
Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and subsequently requested an examination
of areas of critical need within agriculture. In March 2012, the Secretary of Agriculture addressed
PCAST and noted the critical role of the U.S. agricultural research enterprise was to prepare the Nation
to meet future challenges. He asked PCAST to identify and recommend ways to optimize innovative
public sector agricultural research, to stimulate training of the workforce, and to ensure that the United
States maintains its leadership in agriculture around the world. In response, PCAST formed a working
group of PCAST members and experts from the public and private sectors to address the charge and
to formulate recommendations. Informed by the working group’s deliberations, PCAST has developed
this report to provide advice to the Administration about Federal actions that can promote agricultural
Our most important conclusion is that our Nation’s agricultural research enterprise is not prepared to
meet the challenges that U.S. agriculture faces in the 21st century for two major reasons. First, PCAST
finds that the proportion of Federal funding for agricultural research allocated through competitive
mechanisms is far below the proportion in other agencies, which fails to adequately encourage innovation.
Second, PCAST finds that the current agricultural research portfolio is not optimally balanced; it
overlaps with private sector activities in several significant areas, while underfunding other important
areas that are not addressed through private efforts.
PCAST recommends the creation of a new innovation ecosystem for agriculture that leverages
the best from different parts of the broad U.S. science and technology enterprise, focusing public
investment on challenges that enhance the public good and are not readily done by the private
sector alone. PCAST calls for a strategic investment that will create the path toward an improved
innovation ecosystem for the U.S. heartland, enhancing the economy and harnessing the power
of U.S. innovation in science and technology to address this set of great challenges to the Nation.
A new agricultural research enterprise should be centered on competitive intramural and extramural
research efforts that bring together scientists from traditional agricultural fields and those from the
biological and physical sciences. A focused public investment would not only invigorate agricultural
research and create opportunities for new business ventures funded by the private sector, but also
provide the means to train the next generation of farmers and agricultural researchers to meet the
workforce demands of U.S. agriculture in the 21st century.
Creating an innovation ecosystem for agricultural research requires investment in three main areas:
research support, training and workforce development, and research infrastructure. In all three areas,
PCAST has considered how to enhance and invigorate the existing structure while preserving the
strengths and important roles of existing programs. In some cases, these reforms will require new funding
to achieve the stated goals. In other cases, a restructuring of existing funds can enhance the use of
competition for distribution of funding and can expand the Federal research portfolio with respect to
issues of public good.
Overall, PCAST recommends that the United States increase its investment in agricultural research
by a total of $700 million per year as detailed below, focusing on addressing the emerging challenges