On 10 September 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) announced the establishment of a Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network. This program will seek to capture and model the complexity of long-term agricultural processes at a national scale, such as the potentially transformative impact of slow change and episodic or unpredictable events on agricultural systems. Modeled on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) highly successful Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, LTAR would develop innovative strategies ensuring U.S. food security and manage emerging issues in agricultural sustainability.

The initial LTAR network consists of 10 of the 22 watersheds and experimental range research sites already maintained by ARS nationwide, with more sites to be added later. The sites cover 10 states and a range of environments, and were selected based on criteria including an existing track record of long-term research, partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, and a commitment to sustained, standardized data-collection for the next 30 to 50 years. ARS will be seeking partnerships in network research, with universities and with federal and nongovernmental organizations. Work on LTAR is ongoing, and a concrete strategic research plan is expected to be ready by early next year. At this time, there is no new funding available for LTAR. Phil Roberson of Michigan State University told ScienceInsider, “Success will hinge on whether funding becomes available to underwrite a robust suite of long-term, cross sites questions…. I’m hopeful, especially if [the USDA] leverage the experience of NSF’s LTER network.”


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