CARD hosts National Science Foundation workshop

Coinciding with World Food Prize week, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University on Monday hosted a National Science Foundation workshop examining the models used for sustainable food, energy, and water (FEW) systems. The two-day event, part of a $75 million grant program administered by the National Science Foundation, brought together about 80 economists, statisticians, and scientists of various backgrounds to discuss the key scientific, engineering, an data challenges associated with understanding the FEW systems.

By 2050, the United Nations predicts, the Earth’s population will increase to 9.6 billion, vastly increasing the demand for both food and energy. As the use of biofuel technologies has risen, agricultural production has taken on a dual role of fulfilling demands from both the energy and food sectors. Food and energy production are integral to sustainable land and water use, and therefore sound scientific research and policy decisions are required to assure the usability, stability, and sustainability of both sectors.

“I think our food, energy, and water systems, which are all becoming more integrated and the problems around them are becoming more complex, are going to be one of our greatest challenges in the next 35 years,” Iowa State University President Steven Leath said told workshop participants in his opening remarks. “Through collaboration, we can get a much more meaningful impact in these complex areas of society.”

The NSF hopes to use the grant program to foster innovative approaches to understanding FEW systems and studying technologies that can create resource efficiencies, enhance reuse, and reduce waste. “Understanding interactions between humans and the environment represents a grand scientific challenge, especially in the case of the food-water-energy nexus,” Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences, said in a press release. “This scientific challenge also encompasses critical policy and management questions for our future, making it a national priority.”

Participants at the workshop in Ames listened to presentations and held panel discussions on land-use modeling, crop modeling, and water quality modeling, among other related topics. A small group of participants will now start working on a white paper, which could be used to form requests for research proposals in the future.

“The workshop was very successful,” said CARD Director Catherine Kling. “We brought together researchers from universities across the country, as well as representatives from several government agencies—the Department of Energy, USDA, EPA, NSF, and USGS—and had some very in-depth discussions about the methods used to model the FEW systems, the gaps in knowledge we know to exist, and how to reconcile the models we use to study the FEW systems. To be given the opportunity to work on such a challenging and important problem is very exciting.”

(Released October 2015)