As part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension’s ongoing mission to use agriculture, service and research to help Texans live healthier lives, the educational organization introduced its Advancing Texas initiative with an event in Bryan on Thursday evening.
Allyson Tjoelker, director of development and corporate relations at AgriLife,, organized the event, which was held at Ronin Restaurant. She said that the Advancing Texas roadshow initiative aims to provide Texans with information on the intersections of agriculture, health best practices and research.
“We want to bring AgriLife to every Texan,” Tjoelker said. “Connecting agriculture to health is the theme of what we’re talking about tonight.”
Patrick Stover, director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, gave a wide-ranging talk before about 90 Brazos Valley-area agriculture stakeholders and experts.
In his remarks, Stover contended that agriculture is, and will be, at the center of solving a number of local, national and global challenges going forward.
“There is a big movement, or at least a recognition, that we need to bring together agriculture to be the answer to the health care crisis we have today,” Stover said.
Stover said that he came to Texas A&M from his home state of Pennsylvania to be in an area that is both an agricultural and health research leader.
“What greater incentive for a place like Texas to bring the consumer and the new expectations of agriculture?” Stover said. “We are working to make producers’ lives better and connect that to consumer health — and developing the science to do that.”
He said that in the 1950s and 1960s, a push to battle hunger put an emphasis on figuring out how to produce food — most fundamentally calories, whatever their source — as cheaply as possible. Stover credited the increased emphasis on battling hunger to the late scientist Norman Borlaug, who believed that solving hunger could address a broad range of hardships and lessen global violence. Borlaug taught at Texas A&M beginning in 1984. He died in 2009.
The fight against hunger, Stover said, came with intended humanitarian and societal benefits — and unintended consequences. He said there are far more calories in the food system than is necessary today.
“What we did is we created food that eliminated hunger but contributed to this chronic disease risk. We pushed the calls for cheap food into the medical spheres,” he said.
Diet-related chronic disease now costs the U.S. economy approximately $1 trillion a year, Stover said.
“Where we have hunger today isn’t because we don’t have enough food,” Stover said. “It’s because of accessibility. We’re going to work on the quality of the food as well as the quantity.”
In response to the health risks that can come to humans depending on dietary choices or limitations, Stover discussed the work of the new Institute for Precision Nutrition, Responsive Agriculture and Health, which is led by A&M AgriLife and a handful of other research organizations.
“This will have a profound effect on all of agriculture, because everything we do — what we promote, what we subsidize and what we grow — will be geared toward chronic disease reduction,” he said of the institute’s work and other emerging research.
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the formation of the institute in January. Its partners include the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine; Technische Universität, Braunschweig, Germany; and The Microsoft Research — University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology in Italy.
Susan Ballabina, deputy vice chancellor for agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M, moderated the discussion.
“It’s an exciting time for those of us associated with AgriLife,” Ballabina said. “We have a bold vision that will improve agriculture and impact consumers in profound ways.”
“We’re not going to be in the news — we’re going to be leading the news cycle, and informing the news audiences, consumers, policymakers and everyone about what the sound science is,” Stover said.
In coming months, Advancing Texas will make stops in Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and McAllen.