Aug. 2 2012 09:06 AM

To remain a player we cannot remain disinvested in agriculture.

Last Thursday we shared some insight from Sonny Ramaswamy the recently appointed director of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

In his new role, he oversees NIFA award funds for a wide range of extramural research, education and extension projects that address the needs of farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers.

Is the United States equipped to make strides toward feeding the world?
If we continue down the same path in agriculture, we are and will continue to be poorly equipped to feed the world. In the last 15 years, there has been a disinvestment in agriculture at the state level. The academic enterprise has a small footprint, yet they have made some of our greatest agricultural advancements. To further reduce numbers in the academic world, companies are "crowd sourcing" and putting the best minds to work in industry.

To overcome this we need to create an innovative ecosystem; we need to create the sand box and provide the resources to foster innovation. Today, we are reaping the benefits of investments that were made in the 1950s. We need a funding turnaround to continue this benefit cycle. If we want to be the global leader, we need to make investments here and now.

Who are the U.S.'s biggest agricultural competitors?
China, India and Brazil are making the most significant investment and strides in agriculture. These countries have mimicked what the U.S. did with the land grant university system. While the U.S. pulled back their investments in the university system, these countries have continued to invest. For example, in the field of genomics, China is a big player. People aren't coming to the U.S. to research genomics, they are going to BGI (Beijing Genomic Institute). Meanwhile, Israel is at the forefront when it comes to utilizing water.

How do we encourage youth to come back to production agriculture?
Agriculture has seen a depopulation of young people; many don't want to return to the field. Instead they are going down the academic pipeline, earning PhDs and going into industry. They want a career that allows them to earn and not simply reinvest their profits. One opportunity available through NIFA is the Beginning Farmer and Ranchers program.

We need to do a better job with rural development and make it attractive to return to these areas with the skills necessary to succeed. Youth are the hub and spokes of our agricultural enterprise.