Global Institute | The opportunity attracted Roger Beachy to move to Saskatoon from St. Louis
Roger Beachy likes a challenge, and figuring out how the world will feed itself is certainly a big one.
He has spent his career researching plants, food and agriculture, and setting up a new Global Institute for Food Security at the University of Saskatchewan presented an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Because of the nature of the partnerships, this seemed like a good place to spend some energy,” he said.
The partnerships to which he refers are the province, the university and Potash Corp. The province and Potash Corp. have committed $15 million and $35 million, respectively, for the institute over the next seven years. It will be housed on the U of S campus.
Beachy said the public-private partnership, the potential collaboration with researchers on campus and access to technology such as the Canadian Light Source synchrotron drew him away from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
His list of credentials is lengthy and include founder of the Danforth Plant Science Centre in Missouri, first director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and chief scientist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
He is credited with engineering the first virus-resistant tomato and is considered a founder of agricultural biotechnology.
Beachy sees the new institute as a key player in how the world is going to learn how to feed another two or three billion people from the same amount of land.
“I look at the debate of how are we going to feed people, the safety of the environment, the consumer and the economic profitability of the farmer,” he said.
The science of plant breeding has changed tremendously, and he believes the best science available should be used to develop a food secure world.
“We don’t have the time to wait these things out,” he said.
“We don’t have the luxury of waiting 50 years. There are GM solutions that can’t be achieved by standard cross-breeding.”
He knows that genetically modified crops are still a concern for many, but if farmers don’t grow canola, for example, what else do they grow?
“Or, do we help canola do its thing better?” he said.
Soil health, microbes and diseases are sometimes overlooked in these debates, and Beachy hopes the institute will consider these subjects, too.
“I’m a guy convinced that it’s way better for the environment to use genetics than chemicals.”
Beachy began meeting with scientists a couple of weeks ago. He will stay on as long as it takes to find the right person to lead the centre, he said.
One of his goals is to make the institute “so attractive that this is the place where something is done. I want people from all over the world to come here to do science.”
He said Saskatchewan is the ideal setting. The partnership with a major corporation, a province with abundant natural resources, a strong farming sector and crack researchers should all combine to do good work.
“Food security is increasingly part of the moral mandate of agriculture,” he said, noting Saskatchewan exports a lot of food.
“There is also a moral obligation to help people feed themselves better.”
Beachy said he also wants to challenge researchers to think about how this opportunity gives them the chance to do things they might not have previously thought about.
Another challenge will be to narrow the broad topic of food security to make progress.
“We should listen to stakeholders and those who will benefit, as well as scientists,” he said.
The institute will not have a designated building on the university campus. Beachy said the idea is to have administrative oversight of research at minimal cost.