The nation’s investments in agricultural research profoundly affect the future of our food and farming system. But while consumer demand for organic and sustainably-produced foods is steadily rising, public funding for associated research and extension has been slowly eroding. For instance, the U.S. retail market share of organic foods was approaching 3.5 percent, at the same time that the USDA’s research and extension expenditure for organic agriculture was less than 1.5 percent of its total research budget. The total investment in sustainable agriculture and development is still a tiny fraction of the over $2.5 billion annual federal investment in food and agriculture research.
Thanks to an outpouring of grassroots pressure, the 2008 Farm Bill takes a few important steps toward reversing this downward trend, authorizing new national programs and making more resources available for important work on organic and sustainable agriculture research.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) worked closely with the Organic Farming Research Foundation and others to successfully win a five-fold increase in mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative in the 2008 farm bill. With its new, larger farm bill resources, this organic research program will now be equivalent in size to the ongoing Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, forming a powerful duo to build from for the future.
NSAC was also successful in creating four new priorities within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (the new name for a melded National Research Initiative and Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems) — conventional (classical) plant and animal breeding, renewable energy, domestic marketing strategies, and rural entrepreneurship — each of which (apart from renewable energy) have yet to emerge as new national programs within AFRI. NSAC also won continuing support under AFRI for what was previously the IFAFS national program for Small and Medium Sized Family Farms.
Finally, NSAC played a small supportive role in establishing the Specialty Crop Research Initiative which will make competitive grant funding available for research and extension projects addressing the needs of the specialty crop industry. Among the subtopics within the five research purposes in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative are breeding for food quality and nutrient content, integrated pest management and nutrient management, and addressing threats to pollinators.