Wheat industry to Congress: 'Don't cut research funding'
More than 40 wheat growers, researchers, millers and bakers were in Washington, D.C., recently to urge Members of Congress and the Barack Obama administration to protect federal investments in wheat research.
Funding for USDA programs including wheat research is under threat because of attempts to cut government expenditures and the United States' massive debt. Federal government spending on wheat research is considered discretionary spending, the type most targeted for cuts by the House Budget Committee.
Historically, because wheat research focuses on locally adapted varieties for the nation's six classes of wheat, the work is spread among many different USDA Agricultural Research Service locations and state land-grant universities, which have specialized expertise and staff. For the past two decades, agriculture research funding has remained flat, while expenses for salaries and new technology have continued to climb.
Unlike crops including corn and soybeans, wheat is disproportionately dependent on public research. Wheat is also uniquely complicated, with regional-specific varieties of six unique types, called classes, grown across 42 U.S. states. Wheat's genome is larger than the human genome.
Brett Carver, wheat breeder at Oklahoma State University, is among the delegation to Washington, D.C. He says investment in agricultural research is vital to continuing to have an abundant and affordable wheat supply.
"We feel like it's important to come to D.C. every year to remind our national leadership just how important it is for wheat research to continue to receive this funding," says Carver, who also chairs the Oklahoma Wheat Research Genetics Foundation.
"Producing a new variety takes more than a decade, and continuing to produce innovative varieties is vital for our local farmers' ability to fight pests and diseases and deliver their grain to domestic mills and export customers so consumers will have plenty of nutritious breads, pastas and cereals."
Though a number of private companies have announced investments in wheat science in recent years, the industry is still highly dependent on public research funded by the federal government, state governments and producer-paid checkoff dollars. More than three-quarters of varieties being used today came from public research programs.
"We know wheat research is a good investment because we see its returns every day on our farms," says Erik Younggren, a wheat producer from Hallock, Minn., and the second vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. "NAWG is eager to tell the research story and work to ensure those vital dollars continue to supplement our local checkoff investments."
The fly-in this week is one of a number of efforts members of the wheat value chain undertake together to show federal officials the importance of research to the entire economy, not just producers.
"This joint educational effort is an excellent opportunity for the industry to press upon Congressional staffers how critical federal funding of wheat research programs is to sustaining, and increasing, crop production in the U.S.," says Sherri Lehman, North American Millers' Association's director of government relations.
Wheat is vital to the U.S. and world economy and for food security. Wheat exports alone contributed $5.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2010, and wheat itself is responsible for 20 percent of calories consumed in the world, according to the United Nations.
"The American Bakers Association recognizes the work of USDA's Agricultural Research Service wheat quality laboratories is vital as global demand for wheat expands," says Lee Sanders, American Bakers Association's senior vice president for government relations and public affairs.
"As re-emphasized in the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, grain foods are part of the foundation for a healthy, balanced diet for Americans, and continuing wheat research and developing new technology in the areas of nutrition, quality and disease resistance is critical. Our unified wheat chain advocacy efforts to bolster support for ARS resources will continue to be a priority."
For more information about wheat research, check out these resources:
--A chart of wheat research funding over time is available at www.aaas.org/spp/rd/trres09p.pdf.
--A map showing each U.S. region's wheat classes, research labs and challenges addressed by research is available at www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/research-informative-map-fly-in-20110208.pdf.
--NAWG's comprehensive research website page is at www.wheatworld.org/research.
(Source: Kansas Wheat)