Land Grant University Extension scientists and professors are well known for their endless contributions to U.S. agriculture—soldiers in multiple campaigns of war against animal and plant diseases, weed resistance, in laboratories where genetics and other agbioscience disciplines are researched and practiced daily, all in an effort to improve and build upon a dynamic system of food, fuel and fiber production and delivery in its many forms.

Through the efforts of these dedicated Extension and experiment station professionals, a multitude of people around the world are finding ways to feed the hungry everyday, and each year make progress to address world food shortages and the growing need for biofuels. New technology, advanced bioscience and continuing research are uncovering the answers to problems once thought to be larger than life; new treatments are being discovered for old diseases; new solutions are found for age-old problems.

It is no secret that agricultural producers have long depended on the advice, research and input of Extension service field personnel and have looked to experiment stations as a way to gain new knowledge about products and methods related to the industry. But a new study indicates the role of the Extension service and many experiment stations goes beyond development of agricultural science and dissemination of information. It also fuels regional and the national economies.

The study, “Agbioscience in the Southern United States: The Importance of the Southern Region’s Landgrant Extension Service and Experiment Station System,” was prepared by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and BioDimensions, Inc., leading organizations dedicated to advancing science and research and providing support to corporations, universities and other organizations dedicated to solutions for social and business problems.

The study was performed for the Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and the Association of Southern Regional Extension Directors, and sponsored by a number of southern universities including Auburn University, Clemson University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of Puerto Rico, University of Tennessee, University of the Virgin Islands, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.

The emerging bioeconomy

According to the study’s executive summary, “agbiosciences provide a pathway to a secure and sustainable global and domestic economic future. The sector produces outputs with assured and growing demand, and those nations and regions that have the specialized skills, assets, knowledge, and scientific infrastructure required to produce agbioscience innovations will be particularly well positioned to realize economic growth and development from a wide range of industries.”

Agbioscience, and its value-chain in production agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, and downstream industrial activity, is vital to providing a sustainable global and domestic economic future, according to the study.

“In addition, the nation's Land Grant University Extension Service and Experiment Station System is leveraging advancements in modern science and technology to address crucial national and global needs through efforts in research and development, practice improvement, skills enhancement, and new technology introduction, dissemination, and adoption,” the study notes.

“The current and future importance of the agbiosciences is hard to overstate," said Battelle's Simon Tripp, a co-author of the report. "For instance, this science and industry sector is fundamental to the survival of the world's expanding population, the food security of our nation, and the health of our population."

Equally important, the agbiosciences provide a path to economic growth for our nation built upon domestic renewable resources as feedstocks for fuels, chemicals, fibers, and industrial materials, according to the report.

The study claims that the Land Grant University Extension Service and Experiment Station System is on the frontline of sustaining and securing the nation's leadership and competitiveness in what is, and will be, “a sector of core strategic importance for the nation.

“This system provides science and technology development and transformational education that keep the Southern Region's agriculture, agribusiness, and associated business sectors at the forefront of innovation, productivity, and competitiveness, which in turn sustains and creates jobs and contributes to a strong regional, national, and global economy. Sustaining the Extension Service and Experiment Station System, further investing in it, and addressing its challenges is of central importance to the economic and social fabric of the nation and the Southern Region,” the study reports.

"The findings from this study underscore agbioscience's potential in the Southern region," said Saied Mostaghimi, chair of the Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "By utilizing the research and development power of our Land Grant Universities, we can develop the knowledge and appropriate technologies to further increase agriculture and forestry production for food, fiber, and fuel, while improving food safety and nutrition, enhancing environmental stewardship, and promoting economic development."

Defining the impact of Southern agbioscience

The study indicates agriculture, forestry and fisheries production generates $240 billion in regional economic activity within the Southern Region and supports over 2.2 million jobs with labor income totaling $62 billion, underscoring the importance of the tie between the Land Grant University Extension Service and Experiment Station System and agriculture's significant contribution to the economy and other quality of life factors. In addition, the study notes the downstream processing of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries output into value-added food and industrial products adds an additional $1 trillion in output across the Southern Region's economy and almost 4.6 million jobs with labor income totaling over $200 billion.

"Throughout our hundred-year history, Cooperative Extension has set the pace of change in agriculture, natural resources and rural America," said Dr. Beverly Sparks, chair of the Association of Southern Region Extension Directors and Associate Dean for Extension, University of Georgia. "In today's fast-changing world, we must provide the best decision-making tools and Extension education possible to farmers, ranchers, families and communities. It is imperative the Southern region be well-prepared to take advantage of the tremendous potential we have before us."

Tripp added: "In our science and technology-based economic development practice at Battelle, we have observed the consistent rise of agbioscience as a core driver of economic growth and business expansion opportunities for the U.S. This is an extremely dynamic sector, leveraging sustainable biobased resources to produce goods that meet large-scale market needs. The Southern Region is a global leader in traditional agricultural economic activity and can count itself as one of a select few regions in the world that is also leading the charge in emerging areas of the modern bioeconomy."

A major conclusion of the report highlights the importance of ongoing stakeholder support. The Southern Region's Extension Service and Experiment Station System represents a uniquely powerful resource for sustaining and securing the region's competitiveness and leadership in what is, and will be, a sector of core economic, social, and strategic importance. In recognition of this importance, the system is traditionally supported by federal, state, and local governments, and by industry, producers, commodity organizations and other key stakeholders.

The study insists this support must not only be sustained, but “ideally—given the size and scope of grand domestic and global challenges addressed by the agbiosciences—should be significantly expanded so that the Southern Region can take advantage of the large-scale opportunities presented.”

As agriculture advances in the 21st century, the bioeconomy of the Southern Region will no doubt expand to meet the growing need for food, fuel and fiber. Through Land Grant university systems, Extension services and experiment stations, the partnership between science, academic institutions and business is expected to grow, adding depth to the overall impact of agriculture on society.

The challenge may well be attracting young professionals who recognize the value of the emerging agriculture support industry in the years ahead.

 

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