Addressing the Need and Planning the Future of Science Research

By Jaclyn Tan

Even as the population of the world increases, globalization has made the world a smaller place.

"You know, it's fascinating to me when I look at the exports and I think about where so many of our commodities from Nebraska go to," said Susan Fritz, Associate Vice Chancellor in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR). "Many of them go outside of the country. And they end up in places that are heavily dependent on those exports, so that there are food choices and there's actually food to feed people. And if that isn't interconnectedness, I don't know what is."

But while the Earth is not growing in size, research shows that the global population will increase from 6.5 billion people now to more than 9 billion by 2050. And in order to feed those people, global food production must double between now and then.

Planning to Meet the Global Food Need
In Nebraska, where one-third of the jobs are tied to agriculture or agribusiness, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has set tangible goals to meet this global food need in its vision statement, "Innovating Agriculture and Natural Resources to 2025," which was unveiled in January 2011.

Dr. Susan Fritz

Dr. Susan Fritz

Fritz said the vision is just a "new way of framing" the research. "The reality is that we've been on this trajectory for a number of years," Fritz said.

The vision statement, as presented by NU Vice President and IANR Harlan Vice Chancellor Ronnie Green, highlights Nebraska as an "epicenter for global food production" because of its rich natural resources and strong economy.Fritz said the vision statement sets forth concrete and measurable goals for advancing the IANR research being conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For example, one goal for the IANR is to increase production efficiency of Nebraska agriculture by 25 percent by 2025. Another goal is to decrease the median age of rural Nebraska
residents by 2.5 percent.

Ultimately, the IANR can demonstrate how it is meeting these goals by increasing the IANR's return on the state taxpayer's dollar, which Fritz said is currently a return of $15 for every dollar invested in the institution.

"I don't think there's one of us who wouldn't like to get a return like that," she said. "And my goal is that some day that return will be even higher."

Meeting the Goals Through Science and Management
To meet the 2025 vision, Fritz said the IANR can employ two kinds of strategies: one related to scientific research and one related to management aspects.

An example of a science-related strategy is Innovation Campus, Fritz said, which is being built just north of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and will become a private and public sustainable research campus.

Innovation Campus gives UNL the opportunity to center research around agriculture and natural resources, Fritz said. One way to advance science on campus is to transfer the science out of the lab and into businesses, she said, thereby strengthening Nebraska's economy. Attracting top
researchers to Innovation Campus will create jobs in Nebraska and strengthen not only the state's economy, but also the regional and national economy, she added.

On the other hand, Fritz said, an example of a managerial, or operational strategy, is one that calls for figuring out more efficient ways of gathering not just the university's existing research talent, but also outside research talent, so that these scientists can work to solve problems.

"And so that means, in some cases, we need to figure out how we can leverage the talent in life sciences across this campus- and maybe other campuses in the university system and beyond- so that we can start to look at solutions that are so complex that they are beyond the time and the talent of any one scientist," she said. "But if we brought the talents and the disciplines together on a problem, we might achieve the solution in a much quicker manner."

Combining the Strategies to Ensure Sustainability
The combination of technology and management strategies is also crucial in finding solutions to sustainable agriculture and increased food production, Fritz said.

"The challenge 20 or 30 years ago was to feed a hungry world, and to take agriculture production to the next level," she said. "Now today, as we look at feeding a hungry world, we think of maybe a broader set of solutions."

For example, Fritz said, scientists today study how water can effectively be used to maximize crop yield. "Thirty years ago, it may have been more about controlling man's environment," Fritz said, "and today it's about sustaining that environment and exploiting it a bit to feed the world, but at the same time looking at leaving the world in a condition to continue to feed the world."

Working for Nebraska
As a Nebraskan who grew up on a farm, and, up until recently, lived on one, Fritz is proud to be a part of the team that will take the state and the university to newer heights. She remembers how the research at UNL affected her father, who was a farmer.

"Many of the choices he made that ultimately led to his operation being more successful, had to do with the information that was provided by the University," she said. That's a part of the mission of UNL as a land grant university: to do research that will better the industry, to educate the next generation of researchers, and to ensure that this research gets out to the producers and consumers who need it. And Fritz said she is excited about her role in this "transformational time."

"I'm just very honored to be here to do the kinds of things that I do," Fritz said, "that hopefully some day, either in the short- or the long-term, make a difference in people's lives."


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