Draft House Farm Bill: Research and Seed Breeding
April 14, 2018
Cover crop experiment at Rogers Farm Forage and Crop Research Facility in Orono, Maine. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.
This is the fourth post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the draft farm bill released on April 12, 2018 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). Other posts in this series focus on: beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, crop insurance and commodity subsidies, local/regional food systems and rural development, conservation, and organic agriculture. The bill is expected to be considered and “marked-up” (aka amended) by the full Agriculture Committee this week and on the House floor in May.
The research title of the House Agriculture Committee Chairman’s recently released draft farm bill does not, in any substantive way, work to enhance the current landscape of sustainable agriculture research. While the text contains certain provisions that are beneficial, the majority of the legislation fails to fill the growing gaps in the public research and seed breeding industries that are increasingly making American agriculture less competitive globally, and also making our food system less secure.
In addition to refusing to provide the necessary funding to bring our nation’s public breeding and research into the 21st century, as proposed by a consensus of the research community, the mark also actively undermines the progress these industries have managed to make through a series of ill advised policy changes. The bill also fails to call for a doubling of research, education, and extension funding and fails to include vital improvements to the USDA Office of the Chief Scientists, priorities for this new farm bill endorsed by the entire agricultural research community.
We at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are very disappointed that the many well-thought out and reasoned recommendations made to the Chairman and the House Agriculture Committee seem to have been given very little consideration in this disappointing bill.
Below, we include a summary of the key takeaways on how the Chairman’s mark approached research and seed breeding programs in the draft farm bill.
- Reauthorizes several key programs that provide crucial support to farmers and researchers across the country, such as:
- Increases funding for OREI, which is the only research program to receive an increase in funding in the draft bill (compared to current funding levels). The 2014 Farm Bill mandated $20 million per year for the program, and the Chairman’s mark would reauthorize the program and increase annual funding to $30 million. While this level does not meet the $50 million proposed in the Organic Agriculture Research Act, this increase will nonetheless be critical for the advancement of the organic sector and will help stakeholders throughout the food chain.
- Creates a new farmland tenure, transition, and entry data initiative that will work to collect and analyze data that is key to helping beginning farmers. This proposal was included in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and will help shed light on trends in farmland ownership and succession that can help policy makers address barriers to entry for new and beginning farmers.
- Creates a new research priority within AFRI to study barriers and bridges to entry and farm viability for young, beginning, socially disadvantaged, veteran, and immigrant farmers and ranchers.
- Reauthorizes the National Genetics Resources Program, which will support USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant breeding projects across the country.
- Reauthorizes USDA’s only farmer-driven research program, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which just celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The bill, however, does not include any of NSAC’s recommended additions or revisions to the program that would have substantially improved program functionality and responsiveness to stakeholders.
- Makes competitive grant funding more equitable and accessible for some research programs by eliminating the match requirement for AFRI grant proposals and allowing a waiver to the matching funds requirement within BFRDP. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, certain types of institutions (such as federal agencies, private and nonprofit organizations) are subject to provide matching funds to be eligible for grant funding, while land grant universities (and others eligible for “capacity” or “formula” funds) are exempt. This proposal would allow for more promising project applications and could help diversify the applicant pool for both programs. While removing the matching requirement from AFRI is a good start, NSAC urges legislators to increase the fairness and equity for all U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) programs and eliminate the match requirement for all competitive research programs.
- Decreases the number of seats on the National Agriculture Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board and gives members more substantial directives, which is beneficial. However, the new board membership criteria do not clearly represent all stakeholders equitably, and runs the risk of a creating a very homogenous and less effective board.
- Fails to include any recommendations for research program improvements from NSAC’s Farm Bill Policy Platform or the Seeds for the Future Act – even simple changes, like changing definitions, that would have been simple to achieve but have had a significant, positive impact on the type of research funded and the extent to which it reflects the changing needs of farmers.
- Does not provide targeted funding for much-needed public breeding research within existing programs.
- Does nothing to increase coordination across USDA research agencies, which would increase outreach and identify gaps and overlaps in public plant breeding research.
- Does not improve the status, staffing, and funding for the USDA Office of the Chief Scientist, leaving it under-resourced and not on a par with other federal research agencies.
- Ignores the need for a major re-investment in public research to address pressing national and global challenges, as proposed by consensus of the broader research community. This lack of investment in research will truly handicap the future of American agriculture and will further diminish our country’s global competitiveness in the food and agricultural sector.
Farm Bill, Organic, Research, Education & Extension