Minnesota can be a global leader in feeding our growing population
Guest writer Brian Buhr writes how the need for agricultural research is at an all-time high, "yet funding for agricultural research and development continues to decline."
World leaders are working to end global hunger by 2030 as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, yet food insecurity continues to rise at alarming rates. In Minnesota, food shelf visits were at a record high in 2022, up almost 2 million visits from 2021, according to Hunger Solutions.
Meanwhile, inflation is hitting grocery shoppers and farmers alike. Environmental concerns such as flooding, drought and invasive species continue to challenge our state’s agricultural sector. There is a deep and pressing need to find new, more and better ways to feed our growing population while also providing successful livelihoods for farmers and protecting our environment.
The University of Minnesota is working to address these challenges from every angle. To name a few examples: we’re discovering ways to more efficiently use calories and nutrients to sustainably feed our growing population, we’re using advanced technologies to improve agricultural resource management, and we’re developing exceptionally resilient wheat varieties in the fight against rust, a fungal disease devastating crops globally.
The need for addressing food insecurity is at an all-time high and the ability of our researchers and scientists to meet these challenges is more sophisticated than ever, yet funding for agricultural research and development continues to decline.
According to the USDA, for every $1 spent on agricultural R&D, we see $20 in benefits to the U.S. economy. However, by 2019, public agricultural R&D spending in the U.S. was about a third lower than the peak in 2002. At the same time, other countries have maintained or increased spending in this area.
In Minnesota our investments go even further. Every dollar spent on agricultural R&D returns more than $40, notably higher than other state averages. Our state should be a key investor in agricultural research and development. Now is the time to make this a priority.
At this moment, we have a distinct opportunity to make Minnesota the global leader in advancing food and agriculture research, education and outreach. As part of a public-private partnership, including a pledged cornerstone commitment from The Hormel Foundation, and in collaboration with Riverland Community College in Austin, we’re exploring the development of an integrated advanced agricultural research complex in Mower County known as the Future of Advanced Agricultural Research in Minnesota (FAARM). The current state of our research and innovation infrastructure is unacceptable. An alarming 76% of our research facilities in our College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences are deemed in poor or critical condition. This modern complex, together with our place-based work in our Research and Outreach Centers around the state, will be the foundation for Minnesota to re-establish international leadership in food and agricultural research when our state and the world have never needed it more.
FAARM will not only address significant societal challenges. It will be an economic driver and a workforce development asset, directly benefiting our state, our farmers, our food and ag industry, and many landmark companies that call Minnesota home. The collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Riverland C.C. will provide future college students with pathways to learn and expand on today’s advanced scientific approaches to the most pressing food production and agricultural challenges we face.
We know today’s high school students are eager to address critical concerns facing our world and that the University of Minnesota will be here to educate this next generation of leaders. It is my hope they will have access to the infrastructure and funding necessary to pursue this vital work. Now is the time to invest in agricultural research and development so we can continue making strides in addressing local and global food insecurity.
Brian Buhr is the dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota.