Animal Scientist Phillip Myer’s Work Highlighted

Phillip Myer, UTIA animal scientist

A new report issued by the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation and 20 FedByScience research institutions highlights the most important fields to advance in agriculture by the year 2030. Phillip Myer, UTIA animal scientist, is among the researchers featured in the report: Retaking the Field​. Image by T. Salador, courtesy UTIA. Download image​.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A new report shows how U.S. farmers — facing a surge of weather events and disease outbreaks — can increase production and revenues with innovations produced by federally funded agricultural research.

The U.S. needs to increase its investment in agricultural research or it risks falling further behind other countries, according to the report issued by the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation and 20 FedByScience research institutions.

The report, Retaking the Field: Science Breakthroughs for Thriving Farms and a Healthier Nation, highlights research projects in five Science Breakthroughs areas​ identified as the most important fields to advance in agriculture by the year 2030: genomics, microbiomes, sensors, data and informatics, and transdisciplinary research. These areas were determined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) as part of a widespread scientific effort to prioritize agricultural research endeavors. 

“Investments in these five science breakthroughs will allow us to achieve a number of broader goals for food and agriculture in the U.S. in the next decade,” said Thomas Grumbly, SoAR’s president. “But these advancements aren’t possible without federal funding for the research needed to tackle agriculture’s greatest problems. Farmers are getting hammered right now and they need innovation to at least soften the blows.” 

Phillip Myer, an assistant professor of animal science with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), is among the featured scientists studying microbiomes. As outlined in the SoAR report, the world’s population is expected to exceed 10 billion people by 2050. To supply this growing population with adequate sources of protein, food production must continue to improve efficiency. Myer is working to improve the feed efficiency and nutrition for sustainable beef production by developing tools and technologies that examine the bovine rumen and gut microbiome. Along with his research collaborators  — and with funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), private institutions and the UTIA Sustainable Beef Initiative  — Myer is identifying relationships among an animal’s microbiomes with its diet, physiology and genetics to understand how these factors impact feed efficiency.

“Microbes equal or outnumber cells throughout the body. By learning more about the mutually beneficial relationships among ruminant hosts and their microbes, we can have a great impact on the beef industry,” Myer explained. “I’m excited that our research will help feed future generations.”

Other microbiome research efforts featured in the report include: 

Michela Centinari, Ph.D., Penn State—Harnessing soil and root microbiomes to increase crop productivity
Gretchen Sassenrath, Ph.D., Kansas State University—Leveraging the soil microbiome to fight plant diseases 
Kate Scow, Ph.D., University of California, Davis—Working with farmers to improve soil health 

Representatives from the agricultural and science sectors reconvened earlier this year to identify research goals that can only be achieved through advancing the five science breakthrough areas. By 2030, innovations in agricultural research like the projects highlighted in this report can: 

Reduce water use in agriculture by 20 percent
Reduce fertilizer use by 15 percent
Significantly reduce the need for fungicides and pesticides in plant production
Radically reduce the incidence of infectious disease epidemics for livestock
Reduce incidence of foodborne illnesses by 50 percent
Increase the availability of new plant varieties and animal products to deliver food with enhanced nutrient content

“Now is the time to double down on federal investments in agricultural research,” Grumbly said. “There are urgent needs to produce more food, fiber and fuel while consuming fewer resources and protecting public health in the face of existing and emerging threats.”

The report shows how scientists funded by USDA’s NIFA are leveraging federal resources to advance the five breakthroughs areas. In addition to the microbiome research, other researchers and their teams working on food and agricultural breakthroughs include:

P. Stephen Baenziger, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln—Creating hybrid wheat for improved productivity and nutrition
Jack Dekkers, Ph.D., Iowa State University—Using genetics to improve animal health and disease resistance in pigs 
Fred Gmitter, Ph.D., University of Florida—Protecting oranges by boosting resistance to citrus greening
Jennifer Randall, Ph.D., New Mexico State University—Leveraging genetics to defend pecan trees against disease and extreme weather 

Ralph Dean, Ph.D., North Carolina State University—Deploying sensors to safeguard the food supply
Katy Martin Rainey, Ph.D., Purdue University—Using drones and computer analysis to evaluate new plant varieties 
Abe Stroock, Ph.D., Cornell University—Developing sensors for precision irrigation technology  
Archie Williams, Ph.D., Fort Valley State University—Helping farmers use drones to improve efficiency

Data and Informatics
Lingxiu Dong, Ph.D., and Durai Sundaramoorthi, Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis—Using digital tools to help farmers plant the right seeds
Kaiyu Guan, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—Leveraging super computers to predict crop yields and water requirements
Raj Khosla, Ph.D., Colorado State University—Using satellite data to manage water and fertilizer use
Ignacy Misztal, Ph.D., University of Georgia—Developing new tools to understand animal genetics
Robin White, Ph.D., Virginia Tech—Using computing technology to individualize livestock diets

Transdisciplinary Research
Rufus Isaacs, Ph.D., Michigan State University— Improving bee health to benefit farmers
Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., Texas A&M University— Improving the way scientists measure and communicate the value of soil
Matthew Ruark, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison— Connecting expertise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

More information about Myer’s work and other UT AgResearch efforts involving nutrition and physiology can be found online at the website for the Department of Animal Science: Click on the pull down menu for research.

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About the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

About the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation
The SoAR Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition representing more than 6 million farming families, 100,000 scientists, hundreds of colleges and universities as well as consumers, veterinarians, and others. SoAR educates stakeholders about the importance of food and agricultural research to feed America and the world and advocates for full funding of USDA’s Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI). SoAR supports increased federal investments to encourage top scientists to create agricultural solutions that improve public health, strengthen national security, and enhance U.S. economic competitiveness. For more information, please visit

About FedByScience
FedByScience is a collaborative initiative among universities to raise the visibility of the value of federal investment in food and agricultural research. FedByScience’s online collection of success stories​ highlights cutting-edge science that connects to the concerns of Americans.



Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications, 615-835-4570,​