The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) has expanded its research portfolio to include a new focus area — Food, Agriculture & Environment Security.
The focus area combines the university’s 150 years of research prowess across the food industry with NSRI's deep expertise in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapon deterrence, mitigation and response. It aligns explicitly with National Security Memorandum 16 (NSM-16) on Strengthening the Security and Resilience of United States Food and Agriculture, which President Joe Biden signed on November 10, 2022.
NSRI co-hosted a workshop with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) to launch the focus area with more than 60 NU researchers on March 8, 2023. The proceedings from that event are now available at nsri.nebraska.edu/faesproceedings.
"Our research and development experience, infrastructure and capabilities are poised to address explicit concerns of food, agriculture and environmental security," said Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.) Rick Evans, NSRI executive director. "Together with the university, we have an essential role to play in supporting existing national security efforts and bringing foresight for the needs of the future in this space. With this focus area, we have committed to a strategy and devoted the capacity to execute."
Known for its wide-ranging expertise from nearly every level of food and agriculture production as well as environmental impacts, IANR is a worldwide leader in research related to biotechnology and breeding; precision ag and ag tech; integrated cropping and water; food processing; agricultural economics; beef production; and resilience of agricultural working landscapes, among many other disciplines.
"Let’s tightly dial in IANR and the university and fulfill our role as a trusted agent of the federal government — deliver essential research and engineering products to the DOD and federal government agencies working tenaciously in this space," said Dr. Mike Boehm, NU vice president and Harlan vice chancellor for IANR, at the beginning of the workshop.
The U.S. food and agriculture sector is composed of complex production, processing and delivery systems and has the capacity to feed people and animals both within and beyond its boundaries. It accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity. Protecting this sector from intentional contamination, adulteration and attack as well as accidental or unintentional contamination of food products and spread of disease is essential for national and international security.
NSM-16 assigns key roles to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Justice and other agencies. It requires continual integration of food and agriculture sector efforts across the Homeland Security Enterprise to promote the security and resilience of the nation’s other critical infrastructures.
"So how do we achieve success?" Dr. Neal Woollen, NSRI associate executive director, asked attendees of the March workshop. "It falls down to two things: identifying opportunities and leveraging assets we have to bring to bear on solving these problems. We might start by looking at resilience of the country and Nebraska during a significant disruptive event. How would such an event impact resilience and what are contributors to a lack of resilience?"
From a defense perspective, Dr. Woollen explained, there are critical needs for food security of troop feeding operations during deployments, potential operational constraints on equipment and troop movement that may be imposed due to reportable animal disease outbreaks and protecting or rebuilding a host nation’s food and agriculture systems from the impacts of war.
Presentations from five NU researchers brought forward three key themes, which are detailed in the proceedings — threat of climate change, defending against bad actors and a need for an interdisciplinary approach. Presenters included:
- Michelle Black, National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE), University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO)
- Loren Giesler, Plant Pathology, UNL
- George Grispos, School of Interdisciplinary Informatics, UNO
- Andreia Bianchini Huebner, Department of Food Science and Technology, UNL
- Scott Mcvey, School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, UNL
- Liz VanWormer, School of Natural Resources, UNL
Dr. Tala Awada, associate dean for the UNL agricultural research division and physiological plant ecologist, co-led the IANR contribution to NSRI’s strategic planning process for the focus area.
"We are absolutely stronger together in this effort," she said during the concluding panel discussion. "While we know we have an incredible base to launch this effort, we also know our strength will come from drawing other experts, disciplines, facilities and technologies in. Thank you for helping us do just that."
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 15 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.