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Pooling Resources for Scientific Breakthroughs

Posted by Craig A. Morris, Deputy Administrator of the AMS Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program in Conservation
Apr 30, 2014
Over the last 50 years, research and technological advances have led to a 35% decrease in the pork industry’s carbon footprint.
Over the last 50 years, research and technological advances have led to a 35% decrease in the pork industry’s carbon footprint.

American farmers know about planting seeds—both in the ground and in groundbreaking research. While the seeds they plant as individual farmers feed and clothe the rest of us, the seeds they sow collectively through participation in research and promotion (R&P) programs are vitally important, too.

Funded entirely by industry, agricultural R&P programs are a way for producers and businesses across a commodity industry to pool their resources to help market and improve their products. With oversight provided by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), one of the most important seeds these programs sow is the foundational research that paves the way for breakthroughs that once seemed unimaginable.

Right now, several of the ag promotion groups—including the Cotton Board and United Soybean Board—are investing in projects that focus on genome sequencing.  In fact, support from the R&P programs has resulted in the full sequencing of both the soybean and cotton genomes.  These botanical blueprints provide plant breeders with detailed roadmaps of where desirable genetic traits are located. The results of their research will accelerate the availability to breed improved varieties that address specific soil, weather and pest-related problems.

Droughts and floods bring a particular challenge to growing the food that feeds the world. During a time of unprecedented drought in California, the research and education efforts of the Almond Board of California are helping growers in the state’s Central Valley use water more efficiently.

The results are astounding.  During the last three decades, implementation of innovative irrigation practices by California’s almond growers has helped them use 33 percent less water per acre—a significant reduction, especially for an area coping with drought.  But they’re not the only ones investing in environmental research.

A recent study conducted by the National Pork Board reveals a positive 50-year conservation trend, with a 35 percent decrease in the pork industry’s carbon footprint, a 41 percent reduction in water usage and a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a single pound of pork.

Without the jumpstart of funding provided by farmers through the ag promotion groups, much of the groundbreaking research that has led to a better, safer food and fiber supply may not have been possible.

Category/Topic: Conservation