The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research, education and Extension budget should be doubled to $6 billion during the five-year life of the 2018 farm bill, according to a broad coalition of 63 organizations involved in almost every facet of the U.S. agricultural sector. The coalition submitted its request recently in a letter to House and Senate agriculture leadership.

“Modern agriculture is a science-based business,” Richard Wilkins, Delaware farmer and chairman of the American Soybean Association, said. “And yet, we as a nation are not investing enough in publicly funded research while China has doubled its commitments. We need to regain and maintain our nation’s place as the international leader.”

The coalition’s letter to Congress outlines 10 specific policy recommendations, including funding recommendations aimed at new investments in public food and agriculture research and extension. It also presents policy recommendations focused on improving the coordination, oversight, efficiency, competitiveness and responsiveness of our nation’s public agricultural research, education and extension system.

“The need to drastically improve the federal agricultural research budget has created a consensus far broader than anyone thought possible,” Michael Heller, Maryland livestock producer, founder of the Maryland Grazers Network and a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said.

“Based on my long involvement with sustainable agriculture research and in helping to train the next generation of American farmers, I know firsthand how important it is for the next farm bill to boost funding for research title programs to help get the USDA research budget off its current plateau and climbing again, quickly.”

The coalition letter notes that agriculture is “a pillar of the U.S. Economy, accounting for nearly $1 trillion of our GDP, 1 in 10 jobs and a significant contribution to our nation’s trade balance.”

And yet, the U.S. investment in this sector has tailed off considerably. “By 2013, China’s spending on public agricultural R&D became nearly double that of the U.S. Though public funding for other forms of domestic research has risen dramatically, the U.S. agricultural research budget has declined in real dollars since 2003.”

“As a nation, we have underfunded agricultural research and neglected a vitally important area of science far too long,” Wendy Wintersteen, Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, said. “But we can turn this around by increasing support for the researchers who are discovering the innovations that ultimately improve and protect consumers’ lives, sustain our natural resources and strengthen agriculture’s contribution to the national economy.”

The consensus building process leading to these recommendations found the agricultural community keenly aware of the pressing challenges society faces as agricultural productivity needs to increase dramatically, but in ways consistent with economic opportunity, consumer preferences and protecting the environment. The funding and policy recommendations reflect this grand challenge.

“We need to find solutions to meet the food demands of a growing population,” Ellen Bergfeld, Ph.D., CEO of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America, said.

“Our scientists are developing resilient crops and improving the soil. They develop and apply the best management practices to grow food sustainably. All of these topics are top research priorities that need a larger federal investment. Agronomists and crop and soil scientists have continued to find evidence-based solutions to improve food growing capacity; future food solutions depend on future funding.”

Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation, said, “Increasing federally funded agricultural research is, at its core, a national security priority.

“When the food supply is disrupted anywhere around the globe, the shockwaves always find their way to trouble us. The U.S. once led the world in solving the threats faced by farmers and food producers everywhere—we need to reclaim that title. Congressional enactment of these recommendations will benefit our nation today and for generations to come.”

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