Research and the Recession

posted in: Science | 9

Pam Johnson, Chair of the Research and Business Development Action Team of the National Corn Growers Association, presented a briefing at the Maize Genetics Conference. She has words of frustration, words of hope, and words of encouragement for the maize genetics community.
Pam, a 5th generation farmer from Iowa, is the voice of 300,000 corn growers. She works as an advocate for public research and for public and private partnerships. The official mission of the NCGA is “to create and increase opportunities for corn growers”, but the goals are expanding in recognition of increasing global population and increasing needs for food and energy. A world where people have their needs met will be a more stable world, and corn can help make that possible.
The title of Pam’s talk is “Research and the Recession: How Obama and the Stimulus Package Impact the Future of Agricultural Research”. She had intended to speak about funding going towards the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, but those decisions have been delayed by congress, so she instead focuses on the future of corn.
NCGA is the voice on Capital Hill for science and funding. The NGCA can’t lobby, but can educate on behalf of their members. She must show results to get funding, and must be able to show how research will benefit the constituents of the elected officials she speaks with.  The NCGA worked closely with the Obama transition team, encouraging the appointment of science friendly appointees. The stimulus package holds additional funds for the USDA and some programs. Corn is a national treasure and we haven’t yet used it to it’s full potential.
In her role as advocate, Pam works to keep funding focused on research, particularly corn research, including big items like the National Plant Genome Initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. The NPGI has created opportunities for collaborations through the Interagency Working Group. The research conducted by the NPGI is bigger than any one company or any one agency, so the strength is really in collaborative research.
In 2020, the NCGA anticipates producing about 17,000 bushels of corn per year in the US, with the additional grain going toward ethanol. Pam says that the food vs fuel issue is a myth, as we are able to produce enough for both. There have been significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions due to the use of biofuels. There are 180 biorefineries in the US right now. We should stop throwing stones at each other and work together.
There are more transgenic field trial release permits from the USDA for corn than for any other crop. Corn growers are supportive of getting more technology in the fields, and NCGA acknowledges everyone’s contribution to the pipeline that starts with basic research and ends with the consumer.
Pam closes her talk with some inspiration from Travis Smiley: “These times will separate the truth tellers from the power grabbers. The responsibility to restore hope lies with each of us.” and from Thomas Friedman: “Scientists are afraid of being advocates but advocates are not afraid of being scientists.” Pam asks us to “show up, speak up, form personal relationships with legislators, separate myth from the truth… let’s go to work!

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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!