established. Substantive research contributions have originated in the NRI The NRI is facing operating challenges largely as a consequence of inadequate funding, which has prevented it from crossing a threshold to sustainability and growth. But after some 20 years of merit-based peer review in the USDA and the 9-year history of the NRI, the NRI is a successful template to support a substantial increase in public research in national food, fiber, and natural resources.

The NRI or an equivalent merit-based peer-reviewed research effort is needed to lead and shape our nation’s response to the challenges of food, fiber, environment, energy, and a rapidly growing global population in the 21st century. A knowledge base of information and technology unprecedented in the history of the natural sciences is needed today. The committee makes the following recommendations to strengthen the NRI and to permit the nation to meet the challenges to the national (and indeed global) food, fiber, and natural-resources system.


A successful grants program contains elements of value, relevance, quality, fairness, and flexibility. The committee found that the proposals to the NRI and the research conducted by scientists who receive NRI grants are of high quality. That finding is based on the results of the committee’s survey of applicants, awardees, administrators of land grant institutions, and industry; the views of former chief scientists and individuals from federal agencies; and the personal perspectives of committee members and their colleagues. Through conscientious stewardship, the NRI has been successful in generating fundamental and applied 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.

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