Globally, agriculture faces biotic, abiotic and legislative challenges. Impacting on all is the increasing number of species and strains of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms that must be managed. Planning and implementing appropriate farm- and country-level actions requires accurate identification of organisms to access information although, in developing countries, many important species are neither named scientifically nor their local taxonomies and uses well documented. Improvement and adaptation of crops and livestock to changing environment and needs has long depended on genes from wild relatives. Implementing adequate biosecurity for agriculture at national and local levels may involve information on biota globally. Agricultural and neighbouring ecosystems provide poorly-characterised reservoirs for pests, natural enemies, pollinators and other organisms detrimental, beneficial or essential to productive and resilient agro-ecosystems, and the latter must be assessed and monitored for agricultural impacts under the ecosystem approach. To support these actions taxonomy must deliver timely and appropriate information to those who can use it most effectively. This is hindered by poor funding, lack of clarity on resources required and responsibility for action, and poor delivery systems. The needs of agriculture are inadequately met. Policies developed globally to address this issue are not always simple to implement, or to integrate with other agricultural and scientific policies. Solutions lie in greater integration of activities and better information flow between taxonomy, agriculture, research and policy, and provision of appropriate infrastructure and human capacity.