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NIFA director: Focus research on grower profitability

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, spoke to an audience at University of Idaho about the USDA’s emphasis on grower profitability and ways to combat food waste and hunger in Moscow, Idaho.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on October 9, 2017 10:52AM

Last changed on October 11, 2017 12:35PM

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, talks about innovation in food systems during his presentation Oct. 6 at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, talks about innovation in food systems during his presentation Oct. 6 at the University of Idaho in Moscow.


MOSCOW, Idaho – Sonny Ramaswamy says agricultural research programs are thriving under the Trump administration.

Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and former dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, particularly praised U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for his commitment to agriculture when he spoke at the University of Idaho.

“There is no chaos — there’s a pretty good sense of where this is all going, there’s a pretty good sense of the need for resources,” Ramaswamy said. “My boss, Secretary Perdue, is very single-mindedly focused on those producers. ... Secretary Perdue and even the White House, they’re putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to farmers and livestock producers.”

For example, the USDA budget was protected, Ramaswamy said.

NIFA’s request for the 2017 fiscal year budget called for doubling funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grants for food and agriculture, from $350 million to $700 million, he said.

The Support of Agricultural Research group (SOAR) is pushing for a doubling of funding for experiment stations, extension, forestry programs and for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Ramaswamy said.

Ramaswamy spoke on innovations for food systems in the 21st Century.

He emphasized to researchers in the audience the need to ensure farmers are profitable, which he said is a priority for NIFA.

“All the greatest inventions and discoveries (researchers) are making that we support means nothing at all if that knowledge is not being put to practical effort by our farmers and livestock producers,” he said. “Those producers are trying to make sure you and I can enjoy the fruit of their labor.”

NIFA aims to reduce the ecological footprint of food and agriculture, Ramaswamy said, including $120 billion and 1 quadrillion — a 1 followed by 15 zeroes — liters of water lost each year due to food waste and loss. NIFA hopes to find ways to reduce those losses by half.

A third to half of all food is lost to insects and pathogens before reaching the dinner table in developing countries, and at the dinner table in the developed world, he said. He showedb pictures of half-finished meals from a recent breakfast with colleagues.

Some “very simple fixes” include a “best by” expiration date instead of a “sell by” date, or shrink wrap that indicates when food has spoiled, Ramaswamy said.

While many often speak of finding a solution by 2050, Ramaswamy said the “existential threat” of nutritional insecurity is occurring today, and must be considered by researchers.

“Tonight, across the globe, just about 800 million people will go to bed hungry,” he said. “As a consequence of that hunger, we’ll have about 29,000 people globally drop dead for lack of food. In the United States, we can feed the entire world, but yet the USDA Economic Research Service says we’ve got almost 16 million households in America that are food insecure. Almost 4 million households are seriously food insecure.”



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