Time for Research

Time is a hot topic in March, when dark-weary Americans spring our clocks forward. The longer days yield more time for productivity, feeding our inclination to DO, to amass results in shorter spans. Four-day work-weeks, anyone?

Some things, though, can’t be rushed. Research takes time. But some research calls for more than most.

For example: Occasionally, in conversations about research needs, someone (often a geneticist or grape breeder) waxes poetic about the value of having a vineyard of mutant grape varieties, created by “blasting” young plant material with radiation to see what traits would emerge that could be useful in developing new varieties with novel resistance or tolerance to emerging and evolving threats. I can’t even imagine how large such a vineyard would be, how much it would cost to plant and maintain it, and who would do all that work and for how long.

Then there are the discussions that unfold around soil health research. There’s a reason that expressions like “old as dirt” become common: they’re true! Any worthwhile investigation of soil science takes time—and lots of it. In a research paradigm that’s commonly metered in four- to six-year grants, how do you even begin to tackle any meaningful study of soil—how it’s affected by the greater (and changing) environment and how it, in turn, affects the perennial plants like grapevine growing there for the next 30 years or more?

Research is a long game. And while not all science requires the kind of epic explorations the examples above demand, there is a need to be able to support such studies. The Research Focus article below is a great example of a long-term (10 years!) project that’s delivering critical new knowledge to grape growers. Another is the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s growing Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network. There, government scientists are developing strategies for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production as “our natural resources, environmental health, and available arable land decline and climate changes.” These are models for the long-haul research needed to address some of our most critical issues.

Pursuing scientific solutions to problems that span beyond our current horizon takes vision, commitment…and faith. But if nearly 333 million Americans can be persuaded to set their clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time in mid-March every year, surely anything is possible!

Donnell Brown