James L . Oblinger

As Chancellor of North Carolina State University, I take great pride in the contributions the land-grant universities have made to food systems. The vision demonstrated by the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 and the acts that followed help create the world’s most productive, safest, and most affordable food systems. Senator Morrill could never have imagined a time when 2% of the population feed not only our citizens in the United States but also those in many other parts of the world.

As a food scientist and an academician, I see that both our food and our higher educational systems are in a period of great change. To rise to the challenges and opportunities these changes present will require extraordinary leadership in all components of our food systems.

Stories of globalization and the "flattening" of world markets have permeated the popular press. But while we hear of the outsourcing of low-wage manufacturing jobs or technical-support call centers, we rarely hear discussion of the intense international competition for food and agricultural product markets. As import pressures increase, we risk becoming a net importer of our food supply. For many individuals, reliance on others for our food supply raises some questions about our national security and economic sustainability.

Increasing recognition of the connections between food and health are driving additional changes in food systems. The U.S. is experiencing unprecedented "consumer pull" in demand for healthy food products that are convenient and enjoyable and that contribute to the reduction of obesity. Organic foods and products produced in a sustainable fashion continue to struggle to meet the demand that is growing faster than other sectors of the food market.

These are only a few examples of the changing food systems that leaders in this sector must be prepared to address. It is not enough to react to the needs of our stakeholders; we must lead in innovation to be at the forefront of creation of future food systems that support healthy populations in a sustainable environment, as well as prosperous global economies and communities. Advances in scientific areas such as bioinformatics, genomics, precision farming, sustainable agriculture, nanotechnology, biobased products, and biobased energy are opening the doors to a new world of agriculture, food production, and processing technologies.

These leaders must have a broad and integrated perspective of food systems. They must be skilled at bringing together multiple and diverse constituencies to focus on difficult challenges that go far beyond a single discipline or research area. More numerous public–private partnerships between universities, business, and government are also desirable, breaking down barriers and creating a collegial and cooperative environment. These leaders must drive innovation not only in research but also in partnerships, technology transfer, and education. Technology-driven innovation and education are critical to U.S. competitiveness.

The need for leadership is great on all fronts. CEOs in academia, industry, and government who understand—or at least have an appreciation of—food systems are needed to help drive the changes that are coming. To help fill this need, North Carolina State University—with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Association of Land-Grant Colleges State Universities and in cooperation with our partners at the Ohio State University and the University of Vermont—is proud to host the national Food Systems Leadership Institute. This institute offers leadership development to upper-level leaders in all areas of society to prepare them to meet the leadership challenges and opportunities of the future with a strong appreciation of food systems.

The institute is a two-year program designed to further develop the leadership ability and food systems knowledge of established leaders in academia, government, or industry. During the first year, participants attend three one-week-long intensive, residential sessions at the three universities. During the second year, participants work together to convene a Food Systems Conference, addressing important and emerging food systems issues and research. During both years, they participate in a mentoring program. Distance learning and independent and group projects are also included during both years. Details are available at www.fsli.org.

The organization of our food systems of the 21st century will depend heavily on leadership. With leaders who have strong food systems awareness developed through programs such as this, our capacity for creative and innovative education, research, and outreach will facilitate our ability to maintain and strengthen global competitiveness throughout our food systems.

by James L. Oblinger, Ph.D., a Professional Member of IFT, is Chancellor, North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC, 27695-7001 ([email protected]).