July 9, 2013

Plant Biologist Stephen Long Presents At Prestigious 2013 AAAS Riley Lecture

University of Illinois professor discussed barriers and opportunities to meeting food and bioenergy demands in 2030 at the AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture.

Global atmospheric change, stagnation of yield increases, uncertain societal acceptance, and government policies are some of the greatest barriers to meeting the growing demand for food, feed and fuel from our major crops said guest lecturer Stephen Long at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and World Food Prize Foundation (WFPF) Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture on June 25 in Washington, D.C.

Biotechnology and new sustainable bioenergy crops will be imperative to overcome these challenges, said Long, a Gutgesell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and member of the Genomic Ecology of Global Change research theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology, in his remarks entitled “Food, Feed and Fuel from Crops under Global Atmospheric Change: Could we have it all in 2030?”

“I see there being hard decisions ahead, but the U.S. has quite a unique opportunity that many countries don’t have,” Long said. “It has the land resources and good soil that we can use to increase crop production and we can modify our crops to make them better suited to rising levels of CO2, increasing temperatures and so on.”

In the lecture, Long used examples from work conducted at the Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment (SoyFACE) facility and the Energy Farm at Illinois, as well as from around the world, to show how the 2030 challenge could be met by biotechnological improvements in food crops and the use of sustainable perennials, such as Miscanthus, on marginal land for biofuels.

A distinguished response panel representing farmers, agricultural production, agribusiness, and the USDA followed Long’s lecture. The panel included moderator Per Pinstrup-Andersen, an H. E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy and J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship at Cornell University; Richard Bonanno, President of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation; Pam Johnson, President of the National Corn Growers Association, and Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

In general, the panel agreed with Long's thesis that given public investment and timely policy, science could deliver on these needs for 2030; however, given the current failure even to pass a Farm Bill, few among those who were free to comment had hope of seeing enabling policy at the present time.

The lecture coincided with the announcement of this year's recipients of the World Food Prize, considered by many as the "Nobel" for agriculture. University of Illinois alumni Mary-Dell Chilton, Founder and Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., and Robert T. Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, will share the prize with Marc Van Montagu, Founder and Chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach. They were recognized for their individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology.

The AAAS Riley Lecture is endowed by a gift from the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Fund (RMF) in 2008 in honor of the prominent 19th century entomologist’s legacy as a "whole picture" person with a vision for enhancing agriculture through scientific knowledge. The lecture is a collaborative effort between RMF and WFPF, an organization committed to providing an adequate and nutritious food supply worldwide.

Each year, the lecture highlights the role of research and innovation in agriculture. Past Riley lecturers have included Rob Horsch, Deputy Director for Research & Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Pamela C. Roland, Professor of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis; and Roger Beachy, then Director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

In addition to being selected for this prestigious annual lecture, Long was elected this year as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a high honor that recognizes his work on understanding the limitations and opportunities of crop photosynthetic productivity.


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