Recently three researchers were named as joint awardees of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. This international accolade brings to mind the importance of investing in medical research. On the other hand, should society neglect to support such work, our understanding of human diseases and problems will grow stale and out-of-date, resulting in less than optimum human health.
If the agricultural industry should neglect to support research, our understanding of how best to grow crops could grow stale and out-of-date, resulting in even more difficulties in remaining productive and competitive. Research is therefore an essential component for those agricultural industries that are forward-looking and want to survive for the long term. Because growing crops is such a challenging endeavor, research is always needed to find improvements.
New cultivars, better ways to control pests, novel production strategies, new fertilizer formulations, preservation of water quality, improved harvesting methods, and better equipment are but a few things calling for investigative efforts. Research is also the primary means by which new challenges, such as invasive pests and foodborne pathogen outbreaks, are addressed.
Commodity Sponsored Research
California has perhaps one of the most advanced and active commodity-sponsored research arrangements in the country. Commodity boards collect funds from growers, shippers, and other industry sectors via assessments on crop yields. Portions of these monies are designated for research projects that are selected by research committees on these boards.
In this way, the commodity group has a mechanism by which research can be directed to address high-priority concerns. In California, numerous such boards exist for the various vegetable, tree fruit and nut, field crop, and horticultural industries. This system has been in place for decades and has been a successful working model for agriculture in the West.
For example, commodity board activities in the West have enabled researchers to study and understand emerging issues in agriculture, including:
- California commodity board-sponsored research on a previously unheard of virus of celery, Apium virus Y.
- The source, disease cycle, and management of tomato spotted wilt virus are being investigated for tomato.
- Root maggots and other soilborne insect pests are being studied for a number of coastal California vegetable crops.
- New soilborne pathogens of strawberry are being identified and studied in light of the pending loss of soil applied fumigants.
Optimizing the use of fertilizers is a key issue being addressed by various commodity boards and groups. Because of increased scrutiny over foodborne pathogen outbreaks, examining production and postharvest handling practices is a high priority for many commodity research boards. Such boards are now significantly investing research dollars in this area.
Bringing Industry Together
Industry commodity group boards serve other purposes, besides research. Another benefit is unifying the industry as it jointly addresses issues. The research board mechanism brings together members from various competing companies and people representing different parts of the business.
When board members deliberate on research priorities and funding decisions, they can share field experiences and pass on their unique perspectives on what is happening on the farm. The research findings that are generated by the commodity board are also shared with all participants.
The commodity board research model is therefore an effective means of addressing emerging concerns, long-term problems, and issues that arise for that commodity. The group that maintains a research program is at least partially insulated against sliding back into status quo complacency; maintaining a research perspective helps keeps industry sharp, innovative, and competitive.