Eight months into his new job as director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Sonny Ramaswamy continues traveling the country to assess initiatives that could benefit from federal grant money. NIFA, the former Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES,) provides funding and authority for research, extension and teaching, and his visits last week included Purdue University where he was associate dean of the College of Agriculture and director of agricultural research programs from 2006 to 2009.
While on campus Ramaswamy led a seminar exploring the 9 billion problem and whether agriculture can feed that many people by the year 2050 while dealing with diminishing land and water resources.
“In fact there’s a guy by the name of Jason Clay with the World Wildlife Fund,” he told HAT. “He did an analysis and in his model he discovered that to feed that population with today’s technology and the amount of land and water available, we’ll need two more earths. Last time I checked we’ve only got this earth, right? So how are we going to do that? What are the transformative technologies that we need? How are you going to deal with the impact of climate change on our ability to grow the crops in drought and the lack of land? These are really daunting challenges.”
Without it, “We’re not going to get there. And a lot of people have said to me let the corporate sector or the private sector provide for it. Well the private sector will only provide funding for where there is a business model that allows them to make money. So sure, in developing corn hybrids, soybean varieties etc they can go ahead and provide the funding. But who pays for manure management? Who pays for water issues and nutrient management? Somebody has to step up. Private enterprise does not see an opportunity to make money in that.”
Ramaswamy says public-private partnerships work with food and agriculture ventures providing a return on public money investment of 10-1 or better.
Part 2 of this story will provide an example of NIFA funding at work at Purdue. Researchers are using a $5 million grant to help corn and soybean growers learn to adapt to changes in climate.