Keith Nunes

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s “Science Breakthrough 2030: A strategy for food and agriculture research” committee is an initiative worthy of the food and beverage industry’s close attention and participation. The committee is in place to look beyond the immediate issues facing food and agriculture and develop a research strategy for identifying opportunities throughout the supply chain that will deliver transformational change.

Aptly described as food and agriculture’s “moon shot,” Science Breakthrough 2030 will involve input from researchers and stakeholders to create a vision that capitalizes on emerging trends. The committee is charged with developing a strategy to address four fundamental questions:

  • What are the greatest challenges that food and agriculture are likely to face in the coming decades?
  • What are the greatest foreseeable opportunities for advances in food and agricultural science?
  • What fundamental knowledge gaps exist that limit the ability of scientists to respond to the challenges as well as take advantage of the opportunities?
  • And what general areas of research should be advanced and supported to fill the knowledge gaps?

By the spring of 2018, the group’s executive committee will publish a report recommending future research directions in food and agriculture. The committee will frame its recommendations around developing a sustainable food supply, improving public health, strengthening the natural resource base, and creating new economic opportunities and jobs.

Science breakthroughs
Any effort that focuses on bringing transformational change to food and agriculture must have a robust level of input from stakeholders.

The study committee’s membership reads like a who’s who in academic research. Susan R. Wessler, Ph.D., currently the Neil A. and Rochelle A. Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovations in Science Education and Distinguished Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Riverside, and John D. Floros, Ph.D., professor of Food Science & Engineering, Dean of the College of Agriculture, and director of K-State Research and Extension at Kansas State University, are the co-chairs.

Missing from the group’s membership is industry representation. This omission is understandable given the National Academies of Sciences efforts to limit potential conflicts of interest. Yet any effort that focuses on bringing transformational change to food and agriculture must have a robust level of input from stakeholders.

The challenges facing the global agriculture and food industries are many. Creating a sustainable food supply capable of reaching a growing global population must rank at the top. Other research challenges must include the impact of obesity, climate change and the emergence of plant and animal diseases.

Disruption is a term that is overused these days. It is often used to describe a short-term innovation that enhances competitiveness rather than deliver transformational change. What the National Academies of Sciences is proposing has the potential to be truly disruptive.

It is developing a vision for future food and agriculture research investments that target some of the most pressing issues facing the industry. It is the kind of endeavor worthy of industry members’ time and support.