USDA Promises Support for Public Plant Breeding Research at House Hearing
April 19th, 2013
On Wednesday April 17th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee questioned the Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics as well as the heads of USDA’s four research agencies, as preparation for developing a federal spending bill for fiscal year 2014.
The witnesses as this week’s hearing include:
- Dr. Catherine Woteki, Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics and USDA Chief Scientist
- Dr. Cynthia Clark, Administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service
- Dr. Mary Bohman, Administrator, Economic Research Service
- Dr. Edward Knipling, Administrator, Agricultural Research Service
- Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- Mr. Mike Young, Budget Director, USDA
Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who chairs the subcommittee, highlighted the need for transparency and increased reporting requirements in USDA’s budget request, as was proposed in both the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed farm bills last year.
Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), who serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee, asked questions about the proposed consolidation of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, and its impact on the extension component of the program. SARE is a long-standing NSAC priority and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Dr. Ramaswamy assured the subcommittee that the SARE professional development program, historically funded through Extension would not be lost in the consolidation proposed in the President’s FY14 budget. Ramaswamy stressed how critical it is to have an integrated SARE program that includes not only research and education, but also an extension and outreach component to ensure research results are translated to the end-user.
Rep. Farr aslo highlighted the importance of funding for research on organics, specialty crops, climate change, and food access issues.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) raised several research-related issues relevant to sustainable agriculture, including the need for research on local food systems and locally and regionally adapted plant varieties.
In her response, Dr. Clark responded that USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will be including questions in the 2013 Census of Agriculture which has already been mailed to producers, on the topic of local food sales, and if adequate funding were provided to the agency for FY14, they would be able to conduct a follow up survey to gather more detailed data on producers selling to local and regional markets.
On the public breeding issue, Dr. Ramaswamy echoed the importance of investing in “classical” or “conventional” breeding — which is a more traditional form of breeding for improved characteristics that doesn’t involve the use of biotechnology. Dr. Ramaswamy stated that $5 million will be available in FY13 through the Agriculture and Food Research (AFRI) program to support conventional breeding research, and that he expects these levels to continue in subsequent RFAs.
USDA has faced heavy criticism from NSAC and other stakeholders for its lack of attention to classical breeding and public cultivar development in its breeding research. We therefore very much welcome the response to the question and look forward to working with the agency as they prioritize public plant and animal breeding research in future AFRI Request for Applications (RFA).
Rep. Pingree also questioned the panel on the topic of antibiotic resistant bacteria as a result of current animal production systems, and cautioned USDA to pay attention to consumers, who would favor a change in “best management practices” within the livestock industry, as opposed to the band-aid solution of investing public research dollars into developing a carcass rinse that would eliminate the presence of harmful bacteria.
Rep. David Valadao (R-TX) raised the issue of immigration reform and its impacts on farm labor supply, and Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) discussed the importance of the now-unfunded Specialty Crop Research Initiative program, and its importance in curbing citrus greening in Florida. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) highlighted the need for institutionalizing research within USDA on drought mitigation, and also suggested reviving “home economics” as a way to reintegrate food and nutrition education into the classroom and cafeteria, and Rep. Pingree indicated her support for such a proposal.
Finally, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) used the hearing as a chance to ask the panel about USDA’s progress on developing a plan for how they would implement an open access policy, which would make federally-funded research findings available to the public online. Rep. Yoder has introduced legislation which proposes to do just this, and which other research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, are already undertaking.
For more information on the Research hearing, including witness testimony, click here.