Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Report calls for investment and smart regulatory systems to stimulate innovation during a volatile business cycle, as agricultural productivity growth stalls

DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct. 12, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- For the third year in a row, the rate of global agricultural productivity growth has failed to meet its target, says a report by the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) released today.  GHI's 7th annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (2016 GAP Report®): Sustainability in an Uncertain Season warns that unless this trend is reversed, the world may not be able to sustainably provide the food, feed, fiber and biofuels needed for a booming global population.  

Improving agricultural productivity is not just about producing more or achieving higher yields; it allows more to be produced while maximizing the use of and impact on precious natural resources.  Agricultural productivity lowers the cost per unit of output, helping producers succeed in today's competitive business cycle, and supplies food and agriculture products for consumers at lower prices.
  It is part of a comprehensive strategy to sustainably meet global demand for food and agricultural products.  

According to GHI, global agricultural productivity must increase by 1.75 percent annually in order to meet the demands of an estimated 9.7 billion people in 2050.  GHI's annual assessment of global productivity growth – the GAP Index™ – shows the current rate of growth is only 1.73 percent.  The rate of productivity growth for low-income countries is of special concern, as it is stagnating at only 1.3 percent annually, far below that required to meet food and agriculture needs in a sustainable manner.

Global demand for food and agriculture products is skyrocketing, driven by a growing population and middle class, yet in high-income countries, like the U.S., productivity growth rates have slowed and agricultural output has declined to levels not seen since the 1980s.  This downward trend in productivity raises questions about the health of U.S. agriculture, which is a key driver of the economy, providing $2 trillion in revenue annually and employing 19 million people.  
U.S. farmers are concerned about low crop prices, rising land values and higher prices for seeds, fertilizer, crop protection, machinery and storage and are looking for ways to cut costs and manage risk in order to remain competitive.  Uncertainty about regulations make it difficult for farmers and industry to plan for the future and many are worried about the negative reaction of some consumers to their products and production practices.

"We need to ensure that the agricultural value chain is competitive in every phase of the business cycle.  The food price crisis was just 6 years ago; to think that in half a decade we have created systems that will sustainably produce an abundance of food would be to disregard history," said Ben Pratt, Vice President of Corporate Public Affairs for The Mosaic Company and chair of the GHI
Board of Directors.

The GAP Report argues that the best way for farmers to improve their competitiveness is to adopt technologies and practices that make their operations more productive and sustainable.  With precision agriculture, advancements in seed, fertilizer, biotechnologies and animal welfare practices, farmers can manage costs while producing more and protecting their soils, water quality, and animal health.

GHI calls for renewed commitment to public agricultural research and development (R&D) and improvements to regulatory systems to stimulate innovations that will improve productivity and support the development of resilient food and agriculture systems that adapt to and help mitigate climate change.    

"Participants in every part of the value chain need to be able to manage their costs, by investing for innovation and growth," said Dr. Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of GHI.  "Public sector investments in agricultural R&D coupled with sensible, efficient regulatory systems provide the foundation for innovation and ensure it gets into the hands of the farmers and producers who need it. For farmers who need access to land and finance, new opportunities for partnership are emerging that can expand their options and reduce their risks."

GHI presented the 2016 GAP Report's findings before an audience of farmers and global leaders in science, research, policy and private agriculture industry attending the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.  The event included a discussion of the importance of agricultural productivity and policies and investments that can help farmers remain competitive while transforming agriculture into a force for mitigating climate change.

Dr. Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of GHI, was joined by special guest Ambassador Patricia Haslach, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State and former Ambassador to Ethiopia (2013-2016); Mr. Luca Fabbri, Chief Financial Officer, Farmland Partners Inc.; Dr. Keith Fuglie, Economist, Resource and Rural Economics Division, USDA Economic Research Service; Ms. Bonnie McClafferty, Director of Agriculture for Nutrition Global Program, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN); and Mr. Ben Pratt, Vice President, Corporate Public Affairs, The Mosaic Company & GHI Board Chair.

The 2016 GAP Report is presented at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa and the event is streamed live online October 12 from 11:00 AM to noon CDT at
The GAP Report® can be found on  

NIFA invests $1.4 million in Health and Safety Education for Rural Communities

Focus on Substance Misuse Prevention, Mental Health and Aging

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $1.4 million in grants to enhance the quality of life for citizens in rural areas through the Rural Health and Safety Education competitive (RHSE) grants program.

Through these awards, the program is supporting two projects to address the critical challenges of substance misuse in rural communities. Secretary Vilsack announced the eligibility of such projects for the grants in March in Atlanta at a national drug misuse summit. In January, President Obama tapped Secretary Vilsack to lead an interagency effort focused on the rural opioid epidemic. The RHSE grants are only one way USDA is using its resources to address the crisis. On Aug. 31, Vilsack announced an initiative to provide transitional housing for rural Americans in recovery from substance use disorders, and USDA has also awarded Distance Learning and Telehealth Medicine grants to health facilities to help treat individuals in rural areas.

"Many individuals and families living in rural areas and communities experience disparities related to health, safety, and well-being. The opioid epidemic that is ravaging our rural communities has highlighted these challenges," said Secretary Vilsack. "Inadequate access to health and education resources is often the cause of these hardships. These projects will help promote and enhance rural health, prevent substance use disorders, strengthen economic vitality and, in the long term, mitigate the effects of rural poverty."

The Rural Health and Safety Education competitive grants program supports non-formal health education programs and services that provide timely health information suited to rural residents of all ages. Projects are tailored to life stages, cultural differences, health literacy, and occupational and environmental circumstances. These projects use behavioral and social science to increase motivation for healthy living, promote access to health and educational activities and training for volunteers and health service providers. Since 2009, NIFA has awarded $10.6 million to the RHSE program.

Fiscal year 2016 grantees include:
University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $359,487 – Through a partnership with Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, this project will engage rural Georgians and Texans and increase participation in recommended breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings, as well as nutrition and physical activity behaviors related to cancer prevention. To aid in these efforts, the projects will capitalize on the existing, successful University of Georgia Extension Program, Cooking for a Lifetime of Cancer Prevention Cooking School.

Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., $356,257 – This project expands on the existing Keys to Embracing Aging program to reach communities statewide in Kansas and Kentucky. The program introduces and reinforces 12 healthy lifestyle behaviors, including nutrition, physical fitness, social, and mental wellness, personal safety, stress reduction, and financial management.

Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont., $362,378 – Montana residents face serious health challenges in the form of mental illness, substance misuse and a suicide rate that is nearly twice the national average. To address the challenges of access to resources, Montana State University will lead a state-wide project to train extension faculty to promote mental health literacy and youth suicide prevention among rural Montanans.

Penn State University, State College, Pa., $359,628 – PROSPER (Promoting School-university-community Partnerships to Enhance Resilience), established in 2001, promotes healthy development and to avoid long-term health and behavioral problems in rural youth through the use of universal, evidence-based interventions. This project will expand PROSPER into new, rural communities in Pennsylvania to address issues including substance misuse, problem behavior, family strengths and positive youth development.
Previously funded projects include a University of Tennessee train-the-trainer program to foster healthier childcare and home environments for infants and children, and a University of Hawaii project that provided community workshops and water testing kits for the 60,000 rural citizens who rely on rainwater catchment systems for drinking water and other uses.
NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education and extension to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability and ensuring food safety.

To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science visit, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.