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A Banner Year for Leadership: 5 Ways We're Answering America's Agricultural and Environmental Challenges

Posted by Justice Wright, Research, Education and Economics and Rich Derksen, Office of the Chief Scientist in Conservation Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Dec 14, 2015

USDA scientists work 365 days to provide safe and sustainable food, water, and natural resources in the face of a changing climate and uncertain energy sources. To recognize the contribution that agricultural science and research makes in our daily lives, this week’s “Banner Year” series features stories from 2015 that show the successes that USDA science and statistical agencies made for us all.

In 2015, we’ve seen agriculture and natural resources at the crossroads of the world’s most critical problems: establishing sustainable food production, providing clean and abundant water, responding to climatic variability, developing renewable energy, improving human health, and strengthening food safety.  The immensity and diversity of the difficulties Americans face allowed USDA an excellent opportunity to once again demonstrate our ability and capacity to rise and meet the greatest of challenges.

Here are five stories from 2015 to review:

1. USDA Embraces One Health Approach for Solving Problems Associated with Antimicrobial Resistance

USDA recognizes that antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or the ability of bacteria and other microbes to survive the effects of an antibiotic and then proliferate, is a serious threat to both animal health and human health. USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary Catherine Woteki explains how USDA’s ‘One Health’ approach addresses AMR.

Lysozyme, an antimicrobial enzyme could replace antibiotics for promoting pig health.

2. Buzzing into Action to Support Pollinator Health through Research

Pollinators are vital to agricultural production, providing billions of dollars in pollination services for the fruits, nuts and vegetables that contribute to a healthy diet.  USDA Deputy Under Secretary Ann Bartuska tells how the Research, Education and Economics mission area supports the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, through intramural and extramural research programs noted in the Pollinator Research Action Plan.

Bee (Osmia ribifloris) sitting on a barberry flower
This bee, Osmia ribifloris (on a barberry flower), is an effective pollinator of commercial blueberries

3. Going Wild about Water at the World Water Forum

Water is a precious resource and will become scarcer as the human population continues to grow.  In many areas, climate change is expected to affect weather patterns. At the 7th Annual World Water, USDA showcased the latest science and technology research being done at the Department.

ARS Agronomist Jim Smart and Mexican farmers Miguel Morales Beltran and Hector Rodriquez Mediola discussing the 1996 drought that caused this irrigation ditch
ARS Agronomist Jim Smart and Mexican farmers Miguel Morales Beltran and Hector Rodriquez Mediola discuss the 1996 drought that caused this irrigation ditch near Rio Bravo, Mexico, to dry up.

4. Open Data: a Key to Feeding 9 Billion People by 2050

USDA Chief Scientist and Undersecretary Catherine Woteki appear on NPR’s “The Takeaway” program that examined the “The Biggest Challenges Facing America and the World.” The episode included an interview with on the challenge of being able to feed a world population that is estimated to reach more than 9 billion people by the year 2050.  Dr. Woteki discussed how open data for agriculture and nutrition could be a key to harvesting enough future crops to meet future challenges.

Producing food to support 9 billion people by the year 2050 on a finite amount of farmable land is a tremendous challenge for scientists and farmers around the world.

5. GODAN Partnership Continues to Flourish in the Netherlands

At the 3rd Annual Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), GODAN partners met to discuss broadening the partnership in 2015.  GODAN is an initiative that seeks to support global efforts to make agricultural and nutritional data available, accessible, and usable for unrestricted use worldwide.

Jaime Adams, Senior Advisor for International Affairs, participates in GODAN strategic planning discussions.
Jaime Adams, Office of the Chief Scientist Senior Advisor for International Affairs, participates in GODAN strategic planning discussions.