USDA officially launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) this week with speeches from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology John Holdren at the National Press Club.
In a speech meant to set the tone and priorities for the new agency, Vilsack outlined his vision for addressing some of the world’s major challenges and described the new Institute as a “research ‘start-up’ company” for agricultural research.
He said he wants to see USDA’s research area focus most of its resources on accomplishing “a few, bold outcomes with great power to improve human health and protect our environment,” including in the areas of food security and world hunger; nutrition and ending child obesity; food safety; climate change; and renewable energy.
USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Dr. Rajiv Shah and newly-appointed NIFA Director Dr. Robert Beachy also spoke, along with representatives of the State Department, Department of Energy, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.
NIFA was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to be an agriculture research body similar to the National Institutes of Health and to replace the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES).
A cornerstone of the new agency is the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a competitive grants program authorized to receive up to $700 million per year in federal funding. Many in the agricultural community and Congress are working to create a plan for the program to actually receive that level of funding, a giant leap forward from the $262.482 million appropriated in the FY2010 process – itself a major increase.
NAWG CEO Daren Coppock attended the launch session, and NAWG and the National Wheat Improvement Committee issued a joint press statement shortly after it was over, saying the organizations “are hopeful that [NIFA’s] inception will spur important new investments in agricultural research.”
“There is plenty of hard work that lies ahead,” said Coppock and NWIC Chairman Dr. Jim Peterson. “In too few years, there will be billions more people to feed on this planet, and our production is threatened every day by weather and emerging disease and insect pests.
“Leadership and money are important parts of these battles. USDA and NIFA have excellent leaders in Under Secretary Raj Shah and Dr. Roger Beachy, the new NIFA director. We were grateful to see a significant boost in funding for competitive grants through the FY2010 appropriations process and especially pleased that the funds did not come at the expense of other important research efforts. However, we know that funding for both core research and competitive grant programs still falls far short compared to the great challenges we now face.”
“Aggressive and coordinated research is vital to the success of our industry and to all those enterprises throughout the economy that depend on our products.”
More information about the new Institute is available online at http://nifa.usda.gov or at a blog posting by Shah, accessible at http://www.usda.gov/blog/usda/entry/usda_launches_national_institute_of