Indiana's Harvest from Technology

Dr. Jay Akridge

By: Dr. Jay Akridge - Dean of Agriculture, Purdue University

Categories: Agriculture, Education, Innovation, Life Sciences

During this Indiana harvest season, an estimated 979 million bushels of corn and 251 million bushels of soybeans will begin the journey from fields to markets here and around the world. As we celebrate the efforts of Indiana farmers, it is also a good time to reflect on the science and technology that play a critical role in making the harvest possible.

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Some amazing genetic science, plant biology, soil chemistry, and sensor and GIS technology, along with many more advances from laboratory and field research, help Indiana farmers enhance their productivity, produce even more nutritious crops, and reduce their environmental footprint.

The life sciences industries are important to Indiana, and the agricultural sciences, especially plant science, are an important part of the state's life science portfolio. With Dow AgroSciences, AgReliant Genetics, Beck's Hybrids, and Remington Hybrids, among others, all headquartered in the state, Indiana is a major player in the plant-based life sciences nationally. Indiana plant agriculture generated $11.8 billion in cash receipts in 2012—the 8th highest in the nation.

The BioCrossroads report on food and agricultural innovation in Indiana published last year highlighted plant science economic development opportunities in Indiana. The report went further and recommended establishment of a new food and agriculture innovation entity as part of an overall strategy to position Indiana as a national hub for technology development and breakthroughs. It is encouraging to see strong support from the Pence administration for this plan. There is little question that university research plays a key role in supporting this kind of 'innovation ecosystem,' with places such as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina the gold standard.

Recognizing the long-term need for improved plants and the importance of plant sciences as a driver of economic development in Indiana, Purdue President Mitch Daniels recently announced that plant sciences would be one of the University's major research thrusts. Over the next five years, Purdue will invest more than $20 million in plant sciences research and education to strengthen Purdue's leadership in developing new ways to help feed a rapidly growing world population. This initiative is among 10 'Purdue Moves' investments designed to enhance research and educational opportunities for students and broaden Purdue's global impact.

The plant sciences investment will be divided into four main areas, with student engagement a fundamental part of each:

• Expanding research and education in plant biology through 10 new faculty hires.

• Enhancing the College's ability to move research discoveries into commercially important crops with development of a plant transformation facility.

• Building high-speed, large-scale capabilities to assess crop characteristics and performance that will provide for detailed assessments of plant traits that are important for both research and commercialization.

• Establishing a plant commercialization incubator facility to create opportunities for plant sciences faculty and students to move their ideas to the farm and the marketplace through commercialization and licensing arrangements.

Through the plant sciences initiative, Purdue Agriculture will take a leadership role in the recruitment and training of the next generation of students in the plant sciences. We will work to attract high school students who are interested in the sciences to a new Molecular Agriculture Summer Institute where they will build technological and analytical skills as well as entrepreneurship, leadership and teamwork skills.

While the career opportunities for graduates educated and trained in the plant sciences and related disciplines are very strong, there is currently a shortage of individuals trained to lead in R&D, production and sales of the next generation of plants that will advance cost-effective sustainable production schemes, support food security, and promote soil fertility, healthy waterways and environmental sustainability. This initiative and associated investments in teaching laboratories, equipment, and technologies provides an exciting opportunity to develop and offer an interdisciplinary program that will attract graduate and undergraduate students who want to use science and technology to address some of our society's most pressing problems.

As we look to a future where agriculture will be asked to do more with less, this investment will help Purdue Agriculture and the state of Indiana play an even more important role in bringing farmers around the world improved technology and practices to meet the challenges of feeding 9 billion people in 2050. We look forward to working with our partners on campus and across the state to fully lever the impact of this important investment.

Dr. Jay Akridge is the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University.

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