research and fostering the development of future scientists with strong backgrounds in food, fiber, and natural resources.

The committee recommends that a major emphasis of the NRI continue to be the support of high-risk research with potential long-term payoffs. Much of this research would be classified as fundamental in the traditional use of this term. The NRI also should continue to emphasize the importance of multidisciplinary research.

The NRI program is credited with important contributions to fundamental and applied research. The distinction between fundamental (or basic) and applied research often is unclear in the food, fiber, and natural-resources sector, however. Instead of classifying research arbitrarily as fundamental or applied, it should be thought of as on a continuum with short-, medium-, and long-term objectives identified in any research area. The committee believes that a major emphasis of the NRI should continue to be the support of high-risk research with potential long-term payoffs—the type of research that is unlikely to be funded through other research programs in USDA, other federal agencies, or the private sector. The committee also encourages the NRI to continue to emphasize multidisciplinary research because the problems in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system demand multidisciplinary approaches and collaboration.

The committee recommends that the NRI continue to emphasize its mission of training and education.

The training and education of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers attributable to the NRI program have been valuable. Although grants have been small and of short duration, training appears to have been a major use of NRI funds among university researchers. “Strengthening grants”2 provided by the NRI program have had a major impact on the careers and productivity of faculty who otherwise would not receive federal grant support. Furthermore, NRI staff have been successful, particularly in view of the organization’s limited resources, in organizing several vehicles to promote public understanding of research in food, fiber, and natural resources.

RESEARCH ACCOUNTABILITY

The committee recommends continuing the process of merit-based peer review as the most effective method of competitively distributing funds for research in food, fiber, and natural resources.

The committee views the NRI as a model of merit-based peer-reviewed research in USDA. Because it uses a competitive review process to rank

2  

Strengthening grants are made available to faculty of small- and medium-sized academic institutions or institutions in USDA-EPSCoR (Experimental Program for Stimulating Competitive Research) entities who have not received NRI awards during the previous 5 years.



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