Helen Jensen, professor, is one of 13 experts on the executive committee of Science Breakthroughs 2030, who are authors of a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report identifies the most promising scientific breakthroughs that are possible to achieve in the next decade to increase the U.S. food and agriculture system’s sustainability, competitiveness and resilience.
The urgent progress needed today, given challenges such as water scarcity, increased weather variability, floods and droughts, requires a convergent research approach that harnesses advances in data science, materials science, information technology, behavioral sciences, economics and many other fields.
More than a third of food produced in the U.S. is unconsumed -- an unacceptable loss of food and nutrients at a time of heightened global food demand. Increased food animal production to meet that demand will generate more greenhouse gas emissions and excess animal waste. The U.S. food supply is generally secure, the report says, but it is not immune to the costly and deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness or to the constant threat of pests and pathogens to crops, livestock, and poultry.
“In the coming decade, the stresses on the U.S. food and agricultural enterprise won’t be solved by business as usual – either in the field or in our current research efforts,” said Susan Wessler, Neil and Rochelle Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovations in Science Education and distinguished professor of genetics, University of California, Riverside, and co-chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “At this pivotal time in history with an expanding global population requiring more from an increasingly fragile natural resource base, science breakthroughs are needed now more than ever for food and agriculture. The United States is the world’s greatest agricultural producer and bears the tremendous responsibility of implementing scientific advances to support our nation’s well-being and security, and perhaps even global stability, and the tools and resources identified in this report can ensure its success.”
The committee identified five breakthrough opportunities that take advantage of a convergent approach to research challenges and could potentially increase the capabilities of food and agricultural science dramatically. They include recommendations for a range of federal agencies, as well as federal and private funders and researchers.