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Path to the Farm Bill: New Bill Proposes Private Foundation to Fund Agricultural Research

March 30, 2012

On Thursday, March 29, leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee introduced a bill to expand funding for food and agricultural research through the creation of a private research foundation.  The bill (S.2274) was introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS), along with Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), who also serves on the Agriculture Committee.

This legislation would establish a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), which would solicit private donations to fund food and agricultural research activities in the following areas:

  • plant health, production and products;
  • animal health, production and products;
  • food safety, nutrition and health;
  • renewable energy, natural resources and environment;
  • agricultural and food security;
  • agriculture systems and technology;
  • agricultural economics and rural communities.

These priorities very closely replicate the priorities included in the authorizing statute for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – USDA’s largest competitive grants program which is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The foundation is intended to complement, not replace, USDA’s research, education, extension, and economics activities conducted by various agencies in the Research, Education, and Economics mission area – which includes the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service.

The interest in this bill arises from the potential impact that current budgetary constraints may have on federally funded agricultural research programs juxtaposed with the simultaneous need to maintain and expand food and agricultural research in order to meet future needs, including increasing global food production demands.

At $2.7 billion a year, the current USDA food and agricultural research, education, and extension budget represents less than one-seventh of USDA’s total annually appropriated budget and less than two percent of  USDA’s total budget.  The new bill is being proposed as an innovative solution to the nation’s agricultural research needs while taking fiscal realities into consideration.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research proposal is modeled after similar private funding entities previously established to leverage private funding for  the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The authors hope to include the foundation idea in the new farm bill.  Prior to introduction, they had intended to include $100 million in federal funds to jump start the foundation, but difficulty in determining a budgetary offset at least temporarily left initial start-up funding out of the mix.

NSAC recently released its farm bill platform, Farming for the Future, which includes a section on research priorities that will expand and strengthen federal research on sustainable and organic production systems.  We believe private-public partnerships can be strategic and valuable in leveraging scarce federal resources, but we do have some concerns about representation, transparency, accountability, and potential corporate influence on determining national research priorities.

Additional information on the bill can be found here: bill summary and overview, legislative bill text, or list of organizations supporting the bill.

Categories: Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension

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