Partnership as a Verb

By Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Merriam-Webster defines partnership as a noun: The state or condition of being a partner.

I define partnership as a verb: To join or associate with another to create outcomes.

I daresay, 2017 has been a tremendous year of outcomes, as a result of our partnerships: collaborations with leading scientists, policymakers, and extension professionals to identify and deliver innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global problems. Together we make American agriculture more competitive, bolster the U.S. economy by creating jobs, enhance the safety of our food supply, improve nutrition, sustain natural resources and the environment, and build energy independence.  And much more.

One need only look at the vast portfolio of projects the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is privileged to manage, thus, contributing to solutions for problems: local to global.

As 2017 comes to an end, I want to celebrate by spotlighting a few NIFA-funded projects representative of the fantastic work you do.

  • With funding from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a team of researchers led by the University of California–Davis identified a gene from pasta wheat that confers resistance to the new virulent races of the UG99 stem rust pathogen that appeared in Africa at the beginning of this century.
  • Texas A&M University – Kingsville, with NIFA support, joined with New Mexico State University to create the LEADERS – a collaborative program to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics representation among underserved animal sciences students. In just two years, the number of participating students reporting a GPA of higher than 3.0 increased from 73 percent to 97.
  • Cereon Biotechnology, a company in Fairbanks, Alaska, used a Small Business Innovation Research grant to identify a biochemical pathway in central nervous system neurons that links synaptic dysfunction to neuroinflammatory changes. Cereon also identified the potency of Alaska wild berries that may blunt the inflammatory damage.
  • Researchers at the University of Connecticut became the first to use plant products to treat Salmonella enteritidis where it starts, in chickens. Plant-derived antimicrobials can control growth of the infection in broilers, on meat from chickens, on eggshells, and in laying hens.
  • Fort Valley State University researchers created Targeted Selective Treatment (TST) in which only infected sheep and goats receive treatment for barber’s pole worm. TST reduces the use of synthetic drugs by up to 90 percent, saving farmers $150-$200 per 100 animals per year.
  • Researchers and extension educators at the University of Guam funded by Hatch funds, lead the Children’s Healthy Living Program, a partnership among remote Pacific states, to promote healthy activity and nutrition to prevent childhood obesity and its associated health risks.
  • According to Iowa State University researchers, a bio-based, soybean-derived compound mitigates ammonia emissions at livestock facilities by up to 68 percent and major odors up to 90 percent without a significant increase in nitrous oxide emissions.
  • S. production of Atlantic salmon has dropped more than 35 percent since 2000, due to an increase in the death rate of salmon embryos. Now, AFRI-funded research at the University of Maine shows that female salmon with high levels of two types of hormone produce eggs that achieve an 80 percent survival rate.
  • Researchers at Michigan State University used Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding to debunk the notion that planting flowers next to an almond orchard reduces harvest yields. In fact, their study showed that the additional flowers benefitted the cash crop and added diversity to the bees’ diet, which improved bee health and increased hive populations.
  • Leech Lake Tribal College and University of Minnesota Extension personnel are working together with the Band of Ojibwe to ensure food security to the reservation and revive agricultural traditions. A grant from the Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program supported more than 700 residents who participated in traditional planting and harvesting, food preservation, and saving the seeds of culturally important plants.
  • Alcorn State University partnered with Louisiana State University to develop 13 virus-resistant sweet potato lines. The project also trained students and other personnel to develop skills in plant tissue culture techniques, disease diagnosis techniques, and field practices.
  • In Missouri, 4-H clubs take an inclusive approach to working with youth who have special needs, with no set-aside or separate programs or activities for youth with special needs. Examples of special needs youth in Missouri 4-H are featured in the YouTube video, “4-H and Youth with Special Needs.”
  • NIFA-funded researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York, have discovered in the bellies of Asian citrus psyllids (ACP) a protein that may be part of the insect’s natural defense against the pathogen responsible for Huanglongbing (citrus greening). Results from this study will help inform future strategies to control citrus greening disease.
  • North Carolina A&T University research into structural and cellular differences in swine respiratory systems contributed new findings to the science of respiratory health for swine and, potentially, for humans. The Evans-Allen-funded project could lead to improved treatments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • The Ohio State University’s Urban GEMS (Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability) program teaches skills in science, agriculture, and food production. Participants of this Children, Youth, and Families at Risk-funded program are operating 26 tower gardens in nine locations within Columbus-area food deserts.
  • Building on previous discoveries, Texas A&M University scientists are working on draw out powerful HIV-blocking antibodies in cows in a matter of weeks, which usually takes years in humans. Researchers believe that cows’ ability to produce these antibodies against HIV highlights even broader significance, particularly for emerging pathogens.

If the United States is to retain its global preeminence in agriculture, we must continue to be mindful of the power of knowledge, the result of the amazing partnership between NIFA and the vast community of grantees in the academic, governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors.

As you get together with your family and friends for the holidays and mark the end of 2017, think of this innovation engine that drives the world’s best agricultural research, education, and extension partnership!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2018 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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