Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, November 10, 2022
National Institute of Food and Agriculture Holds Listening Session

On November 2, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) held a listening session focused on the agency’s research, extension, and education priorities. More than 100 stakeholders took part in the session. Speakers included a representative from the Entomological Society of America, who emphasized evidenced-based decision making and their desire to see a strong biological workforce. The Maine Farmland Trust requested more NIFA research on PFAS chemicals, which can impact health by increasing cholesterol and cancer risks as well as decreasing vaccine response. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative is one place within NIFA to do such research. 

The American Society of Animal Science wanted to see a balance of animal science with other areas of the NIFA research portfolio on systems biology and genomics to improve food security. Additionally, the society called for research around One Health and increasing stewardship of land, water, energy, and other natural resources that generate animal resources. Another speaker who focused on extension asked for NIFA to support more combined research and extension through its funding opportunities. 

Antimicrobial resistance was also a pressing issue where animal, plant, and environmental factors should be considered within NIFA and in the upcoming 2023 Farm bill. The American Society of Microbiology wanted to see investments in microbiomes research that impacts human and animal health as well as the environment. It highlighted that genomic sequencing of pathogens has transformed our ability to detect foodborne illness and promoted the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative, which is a community of researchers across both crops and animals that lays the foundation for expanding knowledge concerning genomes and phenomes of importance to the agriculture sector.

Another comment was to see an overall increase of funding for agricultural research in the billions of dollars versus millions. Public funding for food and agricultural research has plummeted in our country over the past two decades, while public investments in food and agriculture research in other countries have dramatically increased. Every dollar invested in agricultural R&D spending creates $20 in benefits to the economy.

Lastly, a small farmer commented how challenging farming has been due to excessive heat and encouraged including farmers on review panels. Calls for incorporating social science into NIFA work and improving access to data related to the diversity of farmers—age, race, gender, orientation—were also made.

With so many requests seeking prioritization, research to transform lives was a general theme, and applying what we do know to address national challenges such as food insecurity and climate were made. Comments to questions listed in the Federal Register should be sent to NIFAlistens@usda.gov by 5 pm ET on November 30.