The big controversy over the VW diesel scandal had an interesting start. Research Engineers at West Virginia University decided they would conduct on-road tests of diesel engines. Looks like our friends at EPA, in the interest of time savings, trust lab numbers.
In the National Public Radio report on their work, one researcher comments that they were going to be the first to test diesel cars on the road and that after they got done with the data they would write a lot of journal papers "and we'll be happy if three people read" those papers. Of course, their findings were so off the mark of what emissions testing had showed, they were surprised.
The testing, funded by the International Council on Clean Transportation funded the work that found that on-road tests didn't jibe with the lab-based emissions results VW was reporting. In fact, the difference was so wide, they kept testing to make sure they weren't doing something wrong. Of course, we all know they weren't, it was Volkswagen that did the cheating.
These were researchers aiming to get more accurate information about on-road tests of diesel vehicles, they didn't enter with an agenda. They were working on the science, and this is what they found. Interestingly, when they made their discovery they didn't run right out and implicate VW.
In agriculture, a lot of research is privately funded, and while that has value in some applied science quarters. I'm a little concerned about the loss of public funding. The lesson I take away from the WVU find is that someone working in a public institution with no ax to grind can learn plenty and we can't let those voices go away just because a university budget is crimped or federal spending doesn't sit well with a specific group of people.
A lot of ag benefits come from university research and as we enter a time of greater need to boost productivity, we need to look at all angles. Sure, major crop protection, seed and machinery companies are working to boost productivity, but there are ideas out there that don't sell another gallon of crop protection product, or force you to buy bigger equipment - we need to know about those too. It's going to take all the ingenuity we have to double production on the land and water resources we're going to be allowed to use.
So as fall approaches and you hear budget talks that involve cutting ag research spending? Perhaps you want to make a call to your Representative or Senator to explain to them that feeding 9 billion people by 2050 isn't an inaccuracy. It's a fact, and we'll need all the research help we can get.
Research can be like compound interest, where the dollar you don't invest today is harder to cover down the road as prices rise. It's something to consider.