Greatest scientific challenge: understanding bioresources

The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) has recently identified key Grand Challenges that our scientific Society faces. As these challenges were developing, I often reflected on the challenges I faced in my job as a state corn extension agronomist and how those challenges related to what other CSSA members were experiencing around the world.

My fundamental challenge is understanding bioresources. Much progress has been made in our science to develop improved varieties of agronomic, turf, and forage crops to produce food, feed, fuel, and fiber for our world’s growing population. In many respects, our science is relatively “young” (really beginning with Darwin and Mendel), but the practice of using the world's bioresources to sustain life and build civilizations is not new at all.

During the last century, crop science has achieved feats that are now part of everyday life and often taken for granted. Despite these scientific achievements, the world today faces ever growing challenges of widespread food insecurity and malnutrition, negative impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and dependence on fossil fuel energy.

Solutions to these challenges will be found through sustained investment in crop science funding and the development of the next generation of scientists to address current and future challenges.

Crop science is a highly integrative science employing the disciplines of conventional plant breeding, transgenic crop improvement, plant physiology, and cropping system sciences. Tremendous progress has been made in understanding the bioresources found on our planet. Much of our time over the next few years will be spent trying to better understand the implications for society of some of the recent achievements in sequencing the genome of key agricultural crops.

Some would say that we no longer need to go out into the field to do our research. But, it is becoming increasingly clear that a key challenge is understanding how bioresources react in a changing environment and how we can manage them to mitigate the effects of various environmental stresses.

Many of these challenges are grand, and a far more comprehensive effort needs to be imagined to successfully address them. Our response to these challenges can be stronger if public–private partnerships identify and develop approaches to solutions for these challenges.

In the end, though, it behooves us to be able to articulate and communicate to society, especially federal funding agencies, what we fundamentally do as crop scientists. That is what the Grand Challenges are about. So far, they have been developed by a relatively small group of people.

They are not intended to be static but will change over time as technology advances and new problems arise. Your challenge as CSSA members will be to determine how you fit into the Grand Challenges identified by our Society. If we are missing something, please contact me or your division representative on the CSSA board of directors.

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