Ag Policy Blog

USDA Names Research Foundation Board Members

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has selected the 15-member board for the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research that will be tasked with leveraging funds to better expand research on agricultural priorities both nationally and internationally.

The foundation was created in the 2014 farm bill to function as a non-profit corporation that would allow it to accept private donations. Congress included $200 million for the foundation that must be matched with non-federal funds for projects. Thus, the foundation would be expected to generate at least $400 million to spend for research projects.

A key question moving ahead will be just how the group solicits proposals for research and the number of groups or institutions willing to contribute the necessary matching funds. Some of the various groups and businesses with members on the board include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Aspen Institute, the National Corn Growers Association and Cargill Inc.

Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee championed the foundation throughout the development of the farm bill. Both Democrats and Republicans indicated the foundation would help find innovative ways to leverage public money to expand research opportunities. "This foundation model has a proven track record of success and will complement and maximize the use of tax dollars in agricultural research while establishing a consistent and growing resource for researchers that will benefit the agriculture industry as a whole," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., when legislation as announced in 2012.

Similar foundations are used for the National Institutes for Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Forest Foundation.

In announcing the foundation board, Vilsack said studies have shown that every dollar invested in research can generate $20 in economic activity. "Investments in innovation made over the past several decades have developed new products and new procedures that have been critical to the continued growth of American agriculture," Vilsack said. "We must continue to make strategic investments in research and technology if we are to remain leaders in the global economy."

Members of the board were drawn from several sources. USDA solicited names in April. Seven people on the board came from industry nominations while eight were nominated by the National Academy of Sciences.

According to USDA, the foundation will emphasize research in plant health and production, animal health, food safety, nutrition and health, renewable energy, natural resources, the environment, food security, and agricultural systems and technology.

Land-grant universities likely see more opportunities for grant funding to tap from the foundation. Others see concerns that large donors will have a disproportionate influence on where the money goes and the research that will be driven by it. "The effectiveness of this will hinge on the quality and abilities of the initial board," said an executive at one outside foundation who spoke to DTN.

Experts in agricultural research had hoped that NIFA would have overhauled agricultural research following the 2008 farm bill. That didn't happen because research continues to revolve around the same formula grant approach.

The foundation will enhance the chances of funding agricultural research, but not replace the role USDA plays in research programs. USDA still funds about $3 billion in research through its various agencies.

The 15 board members named on Wednesday include:

Dr. Kathryn Boor - the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University

Dr. Douglas Buhler - Director of AgBioResearch and Senior Associate Dean for Research for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University

Dr. Nancy Creamer - Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Community Based Food Systems, North Carolina State University

Dr. Deborah Delmer - Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of California-Davis

The Honorable Dan Glickman - former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, current Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Congressional Program

Dr. Robert Horsch - Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Pamela Johnson - Chairwoman, National Corn Growers Association

Dr. Mark E. Keenum - President, Mississippi State University

Dr. Michael Ladisch - Director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering

and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University

Dr. Christopher Mallett - Vice President of Research & Development, Cargill, Inc.

Dr. Pamela Matson - Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University

Dr. Terry McElwain - Associate Director and Professor, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, and Executive Director, Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Washington State University

Dr. Stanley Prusiner - Director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Professor of Neurology, University of California-San Francisco and 1997 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine

Dr. Yehia “Mo” Saif - Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Dr. Barbara Schaal - Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The five ex-officio board members, are Vilsack; Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA’s Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist; Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service; Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Dr. France A. Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation.

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