Lawmakers: Funding for research in the Farm Bill is needed for ag to move us into the future

The U.S. lags behind several countries when it comes to agricultural research. A House Subcommittee held a hearing to review USDA’s implementation of research programs, which is Title Seven of the Farm Bill.

Funding for research in the current Farm Bill is only 0.9 percent, putting us way behind our competitors like China, India, and Brazil, yet the return on investment according to Representative Jim Baird of Indiana is significant.

“According to the USDA Economic Research Service, public spending on agriculture research has yielded the economy $20 dollars for every dollar we’ve spent. Despite the benefits of investing in agriculture research, public spending has steadily declined since it peaked in 2002,” said Rep. Baird.

USDA Undersecretary Chavonda Jacobs-Young fielded questions from Subcommittee members. Many were wanting to know about the program called Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority, also known as AGARDA.

“So I think about some of our most innovative scientists at ARS and how we’ve had to sort of work around the fringes to find opportunities for them to look at new and different ways of conducting research. Changing a paradigm is some of the belief systems that we have about how plants and animals fundamentally work. It would give us the space to be able to take those risks and still be responsive to the stakeholders who depend on us to do a lot of the work we do every day,” said Jacobs-Young.

USDA’s research budget is about $4 billion per year overall but mostly falls under discretionary spending approved each year by Congress. The Farm Bill right now has about $1.3 billion dedicated over the next 10 years for mandatory research dollars in the Farm Bill. Members from both sides are asking for an increase.

“Our goal is to be the leading experts in the development of technologies and research and discoveries that agriculture’s going to need to move us into the future. We talked a little bit about needing to be able to take some more risk, because with risk sometimes comes failure. We need to have a system that supports that because also with that high-risk research, we have an opportunity to be transformative,” Jacobs-Young said.

Several farm groups have sent letters to ag committee members asking for $8 billion in research in the next Farm Bill.