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Jolliff, G.D. 1990. Strategic planning for new-crop development. p. 29-40 In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Strategic Planning for New-Crop Development*

Gary D. Jolliff

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The U.S. government has spent more than $200 billion in the decade 1978-87 on domestic programs related to surplus agricultural commodities (Fig. 1) (U.S. Office of Management and Budget 1974-1988). These multi-billion dollar outlays in such things as commodity price supports, export programs and farm credit bailouts, together with record numbers of farm bankruptcies, suggest a policy-stimulated over-concentration of U.S. agriculture on a few primary commodities.

Excess production capacity abroad, such as in the European Community, has aggravated the problem. Also, wheat production in Bangladesh, for example, increased tenfold between 1971 and 1981 (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maize y Trigo 1982); and U.S. agricultural exports to China dropped precipitously during 1981-1986 as the agricultural output of that country increased (Nohre 1986). The Director of the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station, Dr. Donald Holt, recently cautioned, "We may be in danger of underestimating the ability of other nations to develop and apply agricultural technology effectively. For over a hundred years we have had little competition from the primitive agriculture of much of the world. That situation is rapidly changing"

The biotechnology industry somewhat paradoxically has contributed to the problem as well-as agricultural production techniques become more efficient, commodities surpluses increase further. One biotechnological product, for example, enhances livestock productivity, thereby reducing the quantity of feed required to market animal products. The projected decrease in feed demand would add an estimated 4.6 to 10.3 million acres of excess crop production to U.S. agriculture (Kalter and Milligan 1986), expanding excess crop production capacity-already estimated (USDA 1986) at 40 million acres-by 9 to 25%. Yet biotechnology could be applied to improve new crops for profitable production of imported industrial raw materials instead of producing more surplus commodities.

The use of biotechnological methods in agriculture is somewhat analogous to the employment of robotics in manufacturing. While improved manufacturing efficiency may be large, total national health and economy could experience severe impacts from labor displacement and insufficient alternatives for productive reemployment. The solution, for both industry and agriculture, lies in diverting resources to new products and services with elastic markets. In much the same way that displaced workers have been retrained, sufficient investment to develop new crops can help convert the excess U.S. agricultural production capacity to serve society better.

As existing federal policies have stimulated overproduction, so new policy directions are needed to help insure competitiveness of U.S. agriculture in the commodity markets of an increasingly self-sufficient and productive world. The forces involved in making needed institutional change have been described and discussed by Ruttan and Hayami (1984). "How costly a form of institutional change is to be accepted in a society depends on the power structure among vested interest groups. It also depends critically on cultural tradition and ideology, such as nationalism, that make certain institutional arrangements more easily accepted than others."

While agriculture is the largest single contributor to the U.S. economy and arguably a very efficient industry (Lesher 1984), given the chronic nature of surpluses, scientific production of only the major crops may no longer be enough. Farming, which constituted only 11.3 percent of the agricultural sector contribution to GNP in 1982 (Penn 1983), needs a boost in economic return. Also, new industrial crops and products could cycle within the domestic economy as value-added commodities, generating GNP at rates equal to or greater than GNP generation by subsidized commodities currently produced in surplus and exported with little, or no, modification. Survival in the world market of today requires a renewed attentiveness to one of the original Congressional mandates to the USDA: to research "new and valuable plants and seeds" (U.S. Congress 1862).

In spite of this clear mandate, historically, powerful vested coalitions and diverse individual attitudes have limited the ability of the nation to reallocate scarce public funds within agriculture, or to acquire new funding for research and development of new farm and forest products (Tallent 1982).

After the agricultural commodity surplus crisis of the 1950s, a modest infrastructure for new-crops research was developed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Knowles et al. 1984). Redirection of new crops funding to other research areas dismantled this program during the few years when dominant crops were highly profitable (Wolff 1986). Such political vulnerability must be avoided through appropriate institutional innovation and strategic planning. Currently, the long-term interests of U.S. farmers through support of high-risk ventures in the development of new crops are not represented adequately in the U.S. Congress. However, congressional action will be required to activate needed institutional changes and, just as for federal budget deficit reduction summitry, such efforts will require keen statesmanship.

Visionary leaders have suggested an interdisciplinary approach in creating and operating such institutions (Bloch 1986a; Hadwiger 1984; National Academy of Science 1986). Specialists are needed for germplasm collection, genetics, breeding, agronomy, physiology, pest management, crop modeling, processing, utilization, economics, and marketing. Institutional models for this type of multidisciplinary effort do exist. A cooperative approach at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines has, in 25 years, yielded gains in world rice (Oryza sativa L.) improvement that compare favorably with advances realized during the previous 5000 years (International Rice Research Institute 1985). The rate of crop improvement progress in highly domesticated plants such as rice underscores the potential for developing other plants as new crops.

While the U.S. demonstratively has lacked a national organizational focus in new-crop development in recent decades, the dramatic improvements in both established crops and in crops expanded in the U.S. during the past half century (soybean [Glycine Max (L.) Merr.], sallower [Carthamus tinctorius L.], sunflower [Helianthus annuus L.], grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench, Sorghum vulgars Pers.], kiwifruits [Chinese Gooseberry Actinidia chinensis Planch.], jojoba [Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schneider, Simmondsia californica (Link) Nutt.], wild rice [Zizania aquatica L.], indicate substantial gains are possible from new-crop development efforts Uolhff and Snapp 1987, Knowles et al. 1984, New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987). "The greatest service which can be rendered any country," Thomas Jefferson observed, "is to add a useful plant to its culture" (Cunningham 1984).


What constitutes "usefulness" has broadened considerably since Jefferson's time. Today, consumer needs that could be met through the utilization of U.S. agricultural resources include plastics, cosmetics, gasoline and lubricant additives, insecticides, medicines, paper products, super absorbent polymers, and foods low in fat and cholesterol (Knowles et al. 1984, Ritchie 1979, Seigler 1977, U.S. Congress 1983, USDA 1984). In addition to substantial economic benefits, new crop development could address a wide variety of environmental concerns. For example, health hazards could be reduced by using vegetable oil to replace petroleum-based plasticizers in industry. Plant-derived lubricants that substitute for sperm whale oil could be developed. Ethanol from biomass could be used to a greater extent as an efficient motor fuel in no-lead gasolines to reduce urban lead levels and control atmospheric carbon levels. Perennial crops could replace annual crops on highly erodable land Oolliff and Snapp 1987, Knowles et al. 1984, Oldfield et al. 1986, USDA 1984).

Moreover, many strategic and essential substances or plant-derived substitutes could be grown in the U.S. Where natural rubber, castor oil, and sperm whale oil must be stockpiled for defense purposes (USDA 1984), domestic production of new crop candidates-such as guayule (Parthenium argentatum G.) to supply natural rubber, and jojoba [Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schneider] as a source of liquid wax esters-would help insure availability of these strategic materials Jolliff and Snapp 1987; Ritchie 1979). Furthermore, new crops could supply essential industrial materials-waxes, resins, gums, newsprint, lubricants, and alternative sources of hydrocarbons used in manufacturing numerous synthetics (U.S. Congress 1983, USDA 1984). However, the greatest opportunity for new agricultural products lies in applications which do not substitute for or compete with current agricultural products, but do create totally new markets. Meadowfoam (Limnanthes spp. R. Br.), a new source of unique long-chain fatty acids, is one example (Seigler 1977, West 1986).

Indeed, increased efficiency of producing resources, such as the use of potentially lower cost high fructose sweeteners from corn (Zea mays L.) to replace cane (Saccharum officinarum L.) and beet [Beta vulgaris (saccharifera) L.] sugars, could benefit society (even though corn also is subsidized). At the same time, such changes could reduce dramatically sugar crop acreage and spell disaster for cane and beet sugar growers. Thus, strategic planning and a national-level long-term commitment to buffer the effects of crop acreage displacement by introducing new replacement crops clearly are justified.

Soybean introduction and commercialization on 40 to 60 million acres of corn, wheat [Triticum vulgare (aestivum L.)]., and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) land in the U.S. (Knowles et al. 1984) is illustrative in this respect. Though interest in soybean as an oilseed crop in the U.S. was very limited in the early 1900s, the crisis of domestic vegetable oil shortages during WWII drove up the price of soybean in 1920 to more than $4.00 per bushel Jolliff and Snapp 1987). Both the crisis-born profit potential and the strong, enduring, and accountable voice of W.J. Morse, director of soybean research in the USDA, served to break the new-crop entry barrier and transformed soybean into a "Cinderella" crop. In 60 years since 1925, soybean had a total, inflation-adjusted, farm-gate cash value of $188 billion (American Soybean Association 1986; USDA 1936-1986). The larger benefit to the nation's economy, assuming a multiplier of 2.75 to project economic activity (Coppedge and Youmans 1970), is estimated at $518 billion. This "miracle crop" may become one of the surplus commodities in some U.S. farming regions; as soybean prices decline, because of domestic overproduction and foreign competition, thousands of farmers in certain regions, having no profitable alternative crops, may become trapped.

The history of soybean production has a threefold significance: it illustrates the economic potential latent in experimental crops; it underscores the role of a strong political voice in directing public resources to crop development; and it points to the crucial necessity of an ongoing, long-term commitment to new-crop research that can dampen future cycles of agricultural overproduction.


What is the potential for the development of new crops into profitable alternatives? While new farm and forest products should not be viewed as quick or complete solutions to the problems of surplus agricultural commodities, there are substantial grounds for optimism. The historical development of two major, long-domesticaled U.S. crops—corn and soybean—provides suggestive models of how plant productivity can be increased to benefit society. During the 20th century, average U.S. yields of maize and soybean increased three-fold (Fig. 2-3) (USDA 1936-1986), with about half of this increase owing to plant breeding efforts alone (Cardwell 1982 Chang 1985, CSSA 1984, Otto et al. 1985). At the same time, the labor required to produce maize in the U.S. in 1986 was approximately one fiftieth of that needed in 1910 (USDA 1936-1986).

Similar efficiency and even higher rates of yield improvement could be expected as successful alternate crops and products are developed. Yield improvement in particular is a critical first step in making new crops profitable, and promoting positive attitudes and support for sustained research and development. One example is a socioeconomic analysis of costs and benefits of a 14-year investment made by Canada in improved rapeseed (Canola) cultivars (Brassica napus L. and Brassica campestris L.) and crop development. It estimated a 101% annual net return to society, with benefits divided about equally between producers and consumers (Nagy and Furtan 1977). Successful investments in new crop development substantially serve producers through improved income, consumers through lower cost and higher value commodities, and investors through added national wealth (Evenson et al. 1979). Canola has become a major export earner for Canada.


Realistic expectations from research on new crops, and for corresponding support levels are needed. An approach that develops, as a guide, historical timetables and investment levels for the improvement of established crops would be most effective. Low levels of investment in new-crop research prevail and usually lead to long-lasting disappointments. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 scientist-years of publicly-funded support have been invested individually in corn and soybean over the period 1920-1985, during which the yield of each crop increased three-fold (USDA 1966-1987). A scientist-year (SY) is the total direct plus indirect costs for a fun-time scientist, with support staff, supplies and services, and equipment for 12 months. Currently, maize, soybean, wheat, and cotton receive over 1200 SYs of public research (Fig. 4) (USDA 1966-1987). The total annual cost per SY of a well-funded program currently ranges from $150,000 to $225,000 (Agrichemical Age 1987, Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy 1986, LeRoux 1983, Ulrich et al. 1984, USDA 1966-1987), with start-up costs averaging $453,000 per year of additional funding for facilities and equipment, according to a 1986 national planning document (Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy 1986). Public-funded projects on new crops seldom get average or greater funding for continuing or start-up costs. In nominal dollars, the average total public-funded research cost to increase yields three-fold would be an estimated $840 million. This is based on the average number (4,500) of SY's invested per crop in major crops (cotton, maize, wheat and soybean), during a period of three-fold increase in yield, multitude by the average SY cost of $187,000. New crops such as meadowfoam have been developed for a much smaller investment than has been afforded these major crops, and current technology is conducive to accelerated rates of improvement and commercialization. Nevertheless, these major-crop evaluations provide a basis for investment levels needed in, and expectations from, new-crop development. It is important to note as well that investments far beyond those from the public sector have contributed to the development of crops such as corn, soybean, wheat, and cotton. Evenson (Evenson 1983) estimated that private funding of U.S. agricultural research in 1979 was 1.5 times more than from public funding. Moreover, scientists conduct basic research on major U.S. crop plants funded by sources such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which are not included in the tabulations above. And finally, in the case of most surplus crops, hundreds of additional SY's are invested annually by research and development organizations and universities outside the U.S.

Therefore, 10 to 20 public-funded SYs per year, or approximately $2 to 4 million, focused on a specific high priority new crop, appear to be a highly conservative minimum investment for a plant that has not attracted yet private research and development interests. Moreover, the support must be dependable and sustainable, allowing scientist commitment to necessary long-term crop improvement projects. Over a 20-year minimum development period, this minimal level of public funding would total $40 to 80 million. By contrast, less than $6 million has been invested during the initial 20 years of meadowfoam domestication and commercialization effort in the state of Oregon.


The high-risk, long-term nature of new crop development, and the fear of the unknown, seriously hinder policy-makers from standing alone in support of such an effort, and preclude private investment. Solutions to the seemingly exotic and complex problems in new-crop development may appear costly compared to those related to well-established commercial crops; however, opportunities for potentially large advances also are present. Recently the oil yield of meadowfoam in Oregon was increased 50% over an 8-year period at a cost of less than $1.0 million. In a separate experimental crop, Vernonia [Vernonia galamensis (Cass.) Less.], severe seed shattering was overcome by one germplasm acquisition (Perdue et al. 1986). Since the yield potential of new crops generally is undeveloped, dramatic yield increases may be possible within a relatively short time.

However, realization of the potential requires a national policy with clear legislative direction, and appropriations that will provide organization and the stability necessary for alternative crop development. The U.S. particularly needs a mechanism to overcome the entry barrier hindering new crop development. In the early stages of crop development, long-term funding is difficult to maintain. Private industry typically is not interested in funding this type of research until the profit potential is apparent. By the same token, unrealistic expectation from new crops is a problem that can result in a defeatist attitude which reduces support for other research projects on new crops. Scientists themselves are often reluctant to risk investing time in new, uncertain crops, preferring the security of an established crop with existing scientific, financial, and political support. The entry barrier to development is a type of new-crop "catch 22:" funding is not provided until profit potential is demonstrated, and this cannot be done without funding the initial research.

Too often new crops are expected to be profitable before necessary developmental research has occurred to increase yield. Thus, economic analyses of yields of wild plants or unadapted alternate crop cultivars have resulted in unimpressive prospects. Historically, major crops—even those domesticated for millennia—have increased in yield by over three-fold only during the 20th century, given sufficient research investment. Therefore estimates of future yield and profit potential—and setting of research investment for a given new crop—appropriately could be based on yields at least 3 times those experienced upon initial domestication or selection. Added indirect benefits from new crops, such as improved pest control through crop rotation, should be measured and credited to the new crop. Furthermore, dramatic reductions in costs of producing, harvesting, processing, and marketing can be expected with systems research and engineering developments. Finally, new crop profit potential should be measured against that from traditional crops minus crop subsidies and other distorting influences.

If past-crop developments provide an index for new-crop yields, they serve as well to emphasize the importance of making long-term commitments. Approximately 200 years elapsed from the time soybean was introduced in North America (Hymowitz and Harlan 1983) until it was established as one of the five major field crops. Approximately 80 years were required to move the concept of hybrid maize from hypothesis in 1881 to full adoption (1960) (Lee 1984). Most of a century elapsed from the time Daruma-type dwarf wheats were reported in Japan until the dwarfing genes were used extensively in high-yielding U.S. cultivars (Reitz 1970). While biotechnology may offer opportunities for new-crop development at an accelerated pace, traditional plant breeding and agronomic research will be crucial to improvement efforts (Cardwell 1982, Chang 1985, CSSA 1984, Knowles et al. 1984, Otto et al. 1985). Thus, based on historical timetables for crop improvements, a philosophy and mechanism allowing for a minimum 20-year commitment to improvement of a given new crop is needed and is reasonable.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., nothing less than a national shortage of a commodity and the concerted long-term efforts of an individual or an organization to champion a new crop have been necessary to launch successfully an integrated new crop development strategy at the national level, as is illustrated by the histories of soybean and rapeseed development (Forrestal 1982, Knowles et al. 1984, White et al. 1974). This crisis-based policy is policy by default, a short-sighted or nonstrategy policy that is haphazard, very expensive, and attentive only to commodities necessitated by the historical moment.

Congress should lead the way by legislative policies that would ease the problem of overcoming the multifaceted entry barrier-paving the way for aggressive, sustained private-sector investment by using, quite literally, the "seed money" of public funding. To justify the use of public funds for improving the profit potential of new crops, a comparison can be made between crop development costs and the costs of surplus commodity programs. The estimated costs associated with research and surpluses during the decade of the 1980's have been used. The cost of improving a new crop, based on precedents, can be estimated at $40 to $840 million. The $12 billion cost to the U.S. government for the 1987 corn-related support programs therefore would be equivalent to the estimated total 20-year cost for improvement of 14 to 300 new crops. The $200 billion spent on farm income stabilization during the decade 1978-1987 would fund the total 20-year costs of improving 238 to 5000 new crops. Though there are not 5000 high-priority plants to develop as crops, the figures dramatize the staggering disproportion in expenditures. And these calculations do not include the economic opportunity losses from not growing profitable new crops on the millions of acres producing surpluses or idled by government payments.

Funding is a necessary condition, but not a guarantee of the successful commercialization of a given new crop or new product. However, experience suggests that potential crops chosen carefully could be expected, at least together, to return wealth to the nation comparable to the $518 billion earned by soybean in 60 years. Less than 1 million acres each of 50 new crops (symbolically, one per state) could absorb the current domestic excess production capacity. Funding each of 50 new crops at the annual rate of 15 SYs would cost $140 million—approximately 18% of the USDA budget for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 1987, or 7-9% of the sum of ARS and individual state appropriations (1987), or 0.31% of the 1987 farm income stabilization costs (Fig. 1).

Contrasting approaches to public funding of crop improvement are revealed by comparing the relative amount invested in soybean development by the U.S. with the resources devoted to rapeseed improvement in Canada. In 1952, the U.S. had the equivalent of 7.3 public geneticist plus plant breeder SYs working on soybean (Judd 1986) while the U.S. produced $750 million worth of crop (American Soybean Association 1986, USDA 1936-1986), a ratio of 0.0097 geneticists plus plant breeders per million dollars of crop value. Over the same period, Canada invested in 1.43 geneticist plus plant breeder SYs per million dollars worth of rapeseed production (Ulrich et al. 1984). The Canadian rapeseed development project risked investment at a rate 147 times greater than the U.S. investment in soybean development. The Canadian effort was planned, focused, and coordinated among farmers, industry, government (both federal and provincial) and academia. Today, Canada leads the world in edible rapeseed oil exports.

Agricultural research expenditures in Western Europe were similar to those in North America in 1950, but had become twice as high by 1980 (U.S. Congress 1986). The current extent and aggressiveness of the national new-crops research and development focus in the Netherlands reflect strategic planning plus action. Worldwide expenditures for public agricultural research increased by 360%, after inflation, between 1959 and 1983 (U.S. Congress 1986). During this period North America's share dropped from 32% of world expenditures to 18% (U.S. Congress 1986). Several competitors in the world agricultural commodities markets have developed highly successful strategies for agricultural technology import and transfer. These strategies have caused U.S. farmers to lose steadily the competitive advantage they had once gained from early adoption of new technology (U.S. Congress 1986).

The U.S. reactive approach to crop research support is illustrated by increased investment only after crop production increased (e.g. soybean, Fig. 5; sunflower, Fig. 6). By contrast, Canadian investment in rapeseed development, as described above, demonstrates a strategy and a relatively higher research investment before crop production was large (Fig. 7). As the records of soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower bear out (CSSA 1984, Knowles et al. 1984, Nagy and Furtan 1977. Task Group on New and Special Crops 1957) a relatively high level of initial public investment in research on an appropriate new crop can increase the chances and rate of success and profitability.


Granting that the need exists now for new-crop development, and that it will become even more urgent with improved farming efficiency worldwide, the question arises as to how to implement most effectively research and development on new and alternative crops and products. The private sector cannot be expected to undertake the long-term initial investments needed for new-crop development; a steady public support source is fundamental. The well documented (Knowles et al. 1984, Task Group on New and Special Crops 1957) unstable nature of public investment in identifying and developing new crops and new products illustrates the critical economic need for strategic planning in U.S. agriculture. It is appropriate to focus national attention on satisfying future consumer and industrial needs from agriculture. Conditions, events, and societies support modifying the "agriculture-food" stereotype to include expanded production of nonfood industrial raw materials.

An ongoing entity-a foundation, institute, center or association-has been called for (Knowles et al. 1984, New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987, Task Group on New and Special Crops 1987), and Erich Bloch Director of the National Science Foundation, has described many elements of change needed to foster a national research strategy to rebuild U.S. economic competitiveness (Bloch 1986a). The need for new crops could be a rallying point but, as Bloch points out, making the proposed institutional change will require "tough management, innovative polices, and vigorous leadership" (Bloch 1986b).

The importance of a well-qualified and unbiased organization involved in objectively choosing and promoting the most promising new crops can be seen from the structural bias in the political funding process (Hadwiger 1984). Funding of agricultural research by the public sector overwhelmingly reflects the interests of producers, handlers, and processors of established commodities and technological areas of topical interest (e.g., genetic engineering and biotechnology) (Harkin 1987, Legates et al. 1986). The need exists for a forceful and enduring voice for research into new farm and forest commodities (New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987, Task Group on New and Special Crops 1957). While at present interest is high in new technologies, such as genetic-manipulation tools applied to agricultural research (Legates et al. 1986), Vietmeyer (1986) cautions against emphasizing technology at the expense of promoting development of renewable sources of wealth such as a new crop. Likewise, Ruttan has pointed out that "institutional innovation is both a more powerful and a more reliable instrument of reform than technical change" (Ruttan 1982). The innovation of the Rubber Institute of Malaya in 1925 resulted in a six-fold rubber (Hevea brasiliensis (A. Juss.) Müll. Arg.) yield increase from 1920 to 1970 (Ruttan 1982).

An entity responsible for new-crop development would provide the means to develop a strategy, to focus new technology on exploiting renewable wealth from plants, and to solve problems that often prevent their domestication. It could attract scientific talent, leverage resources to priority crops, and promote a collective synergy among diverse interest groups (Jolliff 1987). The development of new crops and products could take place largely within existing agricultural research networks. Action of this nature is being taken at the state level through the Greater Minnesota Corporation, and by the University of Minnesota Center for Alternative Crops and Products. A New Farm and Forest Products Working Group has been formed at the University of Missouri, and they cooperate with Missouri Ingenuity, Inc. which is a venture assist corporation.

The track record of crop improvement research by agencies focusing on specific crops has been highly successful to date. The development of the Canadian rapeseed industry was supported by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (White et al. 1974). Improved potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) germplasm was produced by the International Potato Center and used by over 80 countries (International Potato Center 1985). These examples attest to the progress possible with long-term support focused on particular crop plants. Other International Agricultural Research Centers (Consultative Group on Int'l. Agric. Res. 1985), and particularly the International Rice Research Institute (International Rice Research Institute 1985), have made remarkable progress in crop improvement. More than 1000 new crop cultivars had been developed at these centers by 1983. The modern rice and wheat cultivars developed at these centers annually yield enough more than the old cultivars would have produced to feed an additional 500 million people (Consultative Group on Int'l. Agric. Res. 1985). Ironically, while the U.S. has participated in the planning, development, and support of most of these international centers, it has not established any comparable comprehensive interdisciplinary effort for domestic development and commercialization of new crop-plant resources.


Multidisciplinary needs in new crop development argue for creating a stable, organized entity to foster cooperative efforts. Bloch (1986a) recently targeted the need for increased emphasis on centers or institutes to promote interdisciplinary research for the purpose of addressing the complex and challenging problems of today. The establishment of entities to coordinate research efforts and to focus on vital, multidisciplinary areas has been identified as essential to U.S. economic health. Recent proposals to develop 80 to 100 science and technology centers at U.S. universities by 1992 (Norman 1987), to create a "National Institute of Technology", and to establish an "Advanced Civilian Technology Agency" (Crawford 1987) reflect the growing awareness of the need for federal action to increase U.S. economic competitiveness.

A New Farm and Forest Products Task Force was formed by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1985 to address the potential of diversification in U.S. agriculture and forestry (New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987). The task force was an industry-led cooperative effort that included government and academic personnel. One of its initiatives was a proposal for establishing an organizational entity that would promote the development of alternative products from farms and forests. On June 25,1987, the New Farm and Forest Products Task Force recommended to the Secretary. U.S. Department of Agriculture, the formation of a Foundation for New Farm and Forest Products (NFFP). On June 26, 1987 a hearing was held before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, United States Senate, to report as a Task Force and to investigate the means to raise farm income by commercializing new farm and forest products. "The proposed organization would be an autonomous, non-profit corporate entity with a mission to foster and facilitate the development and commercialization of new farm and forest products. As conceptualized, the Foundation would be specifically charged with the responsibility to achieve the diversification goal. Bridging both private and public sectors, the Foundation would serve as an advocate, catalyst, coordinator, and cooperative funding source for the development of new farm and forest products." (New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987). It also could nurture user, grower, and processor groups for individual crops or products and thus greatly decrease the time required for such necessary groups to organize and operate effectively.

Given the sensitivities involved, extreme care will be required to develop the organizational blueprint to accommodate the diverse nature of potential projects and participants. Trust funds could be used to foster and sustain collaborative initiatives (joint ventures and matching funds) between the private and public sectors. With ebbing total federal and state funding of agricultural research (Fig. 1), an adequate source of funds for such an organizational entity is difficult to envision apart from special legislation, such as that proposed for trust funds (New Farm and Forest Products Task Force 1987) to be repaid in the future.

This Foundation could provide cooperation with established commodity organizations and mobilize research technologies. It could institutionalize a strategic plan for competitiveness and diversification in U.S. agriculture. Establishing a Foundation for New Farm and Forest Products could provide needed balance to development and commercialization of crops to benefit the U.S. It is conceivable that Congress would favor increased total funding of agricultural research and development based on strategic plans for commodity production substantially beyond those traditionally in surplus.


Technology exists to exploit the economic potential of new crops as annually renewable alternatives to chronic expenditures on surpluses. The national challenge is to focus sufficient public resources on a prudent number of new crops to make them profitable, without subsidies, for production on U.S. farms. An orderly development of botanical resources is needed to overcome entry barriers and to maximize successes of efforts to develop new farm and forest products. To achieve this goal, an organized national commitment is essential, with responsible institutional structure, resources, accountability, and continuity over several decades.

As Bloch (1986b) has observed, "New roles for institutions, and more cooperative and innovative relationships among them, will require alteration of some deeply ingrained political attitudes." It is time for Congress to act.


*Adapted from 'Strategic planning for new-crop development', published in the Journal of Production Agriculture 2:6-13 (1989). American Society of Agronomy. Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, 677 South Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711. Much of this research was done as part of the New Farm and Forest Products Task Force Report to the Secretary. U.S. Dept. of Agric.; R.L. Sampson, Chairman. Appreciation is expressed to the numerous colleagues who assisted in the review process.

Fig. 1. Federal outlays for farm income stabilization (FIS), and for research in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. FIS values are from Function 351 (Budget of the U.S. Govt.) in 1974-82, and Function 351 plus the value of certificate programs [such as $9.7 billion in 1984 for the Payment-In-Kind (PIK) commodity program) in 1983-87. U.S. Dept. of Agric. research is Function 352 minus services (1974-87). Source: S. Dewhurst, Budget Officer, U.S. Dept. of Agric., Washington, D.C. Personal communication.

Fig. 2. Corn yields in the U.S. From: J. Prod. Agric 1:84. (USDA 1936-1986). Sources: National ten-year averages were derived from USDA Agric. Statistics (1936, 1945, 1965, 1985). Highest county averages are from U.S. Census of Agric. Summary Data for the closest available years (1924, 1939, 1959, 1965, 1985). Highest corn yield on record (farmer's field). From: W. Nelson and H. Reetz, Crop and Soils 38:5-7 (1986).

Fig. 3. Soybean yields in the U.S. (USDA 1936-1986). Sources: National ten-year averages were derived from USDA Agric. Statistics (1936, 1945, 1965, 1985). Highest county averages are from U.S. Census of Agric. Summary Data for the closest available years (1924, 1939, 1959, 1965, 1985). Highest soybean yield (research plots) on record. From: R. Flannery. Better Crops with Plant Food (Winter, 1983-84) p. 6-7.

Fig. 4. Total public sector (USDA plus State Agric. Expt. Station) funding invested in cotton, corn, wheat, and soybean (USDA, Cooperative State Research Service 1966-1987).

Fig. 5. Soybean production and public sector funding of soybean genetics and plant breeding in the U.S. (Judd 1986, USDA 1936-1986).

Fig. 6. Sunflower production and public sector funding of sunflower research (USDA 1936-1986, USDA, Cooperative State Research Service 1966-1987).

Fig. 7. Canola production and public sector funding of canola genetics and plant breeding in Canada (Nagy and Furtan 1977).

Last update August 26, 1997 by aw