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Laboratory launches Agriculture and Food Processing Initiative

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January 06, 1998 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — The earth's population is expected to surpass 6 billion near the turn of the century and continue to expand at a rate of about 80 million annually for at least a dozen or so years thereafter.

To feed all those hungry inhabitants, the world will have to produce more food while paying even greater attention to other global issues such as natural resource management and environmental protection.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a leader in environmental and energy sciences, now is focusing its scientific and technological resources on these emerging problems of agriculture and food production

"We have the scientific and technical expertise necessary to help bring about positive, significant changes in the way the world feeds itself," said Pacific Northwest's Doug Lemon, who heads the new Agriculture and Food Processing Initiative. "We have the right kinds of skills to help solve the problems."

In addition to increased demand for food, those problems include farming practices that contribute to environmental problems, food safety concerns and decreasing availability of land, water, energy and other resources used to produce crops.

According to Lemon, initiative activities will focus on finding ways to:


  • enhance the stewardship of energy and environmental resources associated with agriculture and food processing
  • increase the quantity, quality, and safety of the world's food supply
  • improve the productivity and profitability of the agriculture and food processing industries
  • enhance the responsiveness of industry to diverse and changing consumer needs.


"Two key areas our initiative will address are biotechnology, which can lead to healthier and more productive plants, and information technology methods that employ satellite and other technologies to help the farmer do a more efficient job of producing crops," Lemon said.

Other areas to be explored by the initiative include microbial ecology, foodborne pathogen detection and control systems, pollution prevention, value-added processes, environmental resource management and improved processing, storage and distribution systems.

Funding already has been identified for several projects, but Lemon and other staff assigned to the initiative will be seeking additional dollars public and private to get the effort fully on track.

Although the initiative is new, agriculture-related research at Pacific Northwest is not. In the 1970s and 1980s, the laboratory's Food and Agriculture Section conducted research and technology development in bioprocessing, hydroponics and other areas. At its peak, the effort involved up to 30 staff members and a $1 million budget. For a variety of reasons, the group's focus shifted to other research areas over the years, but some of the original staff remain at Pacific Northwest.

The laboratory's renewed interest in agriculture came in 1995. "The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Agriculture signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging cooperation in agricultural research activities," Lemon said. "That event added an agriculture focus to Pacific Northwest's process of exploring potential opportunities for applying the laboratory's research and development capabilities." The effort is not starting from scratch. Some staff who were part of Pacific Northwest's earlier work in agriculture have signed on to the initiative. Also, an effort will be made to capitalize on the laboratory's research activities in seemingly unrelated fields. "For example, I think we can benefit from what has been learned in bioremediation. By simply refocusing knowledge and technologies, we may find agriculture-related applications," Lemon said, noting that DOE is very supportive of this approach.

Pacific Northwest's proximity to some of the most productive farmland in the world is another plus. "We're situated in a region where agriculture is important. We don't have to fly across the country to learn about the agriculture industry and its needs. It's right here," Lemon said. The Agri-Business Commercialization and Development Center in Richland, created in 1994 to commercialize Pacific Northwest technology, will serve as a conduit for interacting with the Northwest agriculture community.

Lemon emphasized the initiative will not address agriculture practices, food science, nutrition or other areas that historically have been strengths of land grant universities. "We want to bring additional research resources to this region, not take away from work that already is being done by Washington State University and other entities," Lemon said.

Tags: Energy

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