As concern about the long-term viability of our food and fiber system has grown, many agricultural research administrators, prominent scientists and policymakers have focused increasing attention on the important research and educational needs in sustainable agriculture. Colleges of agriculture should be important in meeting the challenges of sustainable agriculture; a central question is whether they are adequate for the task. This paper highlights several individual and institutional constraints that limit the ability of these colleges to address the needs: 1) assumptions and biases regarding the relationship between humans and nature, and the concept of progress; 2) the demographic characteristics, education, and experience of research scientists; 3) the specialized departmental organization of research institutions; 4) imbalances among analyses on the molecular, cell, organism and ecosystem levels; 5) emphasis on farm level analysis and technology development; 6) new agricultural biotechnologies that may overemphasize short-term, narrow technical considerations and proprietary products; 7) compartmentalization of education by discipline, and the limited informal and field experiences for students; 8) the background and education of current Extension Service agents; 9) the emphasis on economic effects in research impact assessments, to the neglect of environmental effects and social consequences for farmers, rural communities and society at large; 10) limited capability for comprehensive public policy analysis.
Despite these limitations, new research agendas and college programs are effectively addressing many needs of sustainable agriculture systems. To be more successful, these efforts must be broad-based and sensitive to a wide range of issues, and must include all participants in the system.