April 2, 2020
Federal funding for food and agriculture public research has stagnated for decades, declining in real terms even while other federal agencies have seen their budgets trend steadily upward and even while China has long since overtaken the US as the major public investor in the sector. Yet, our food and agricultural system is a key determinant of public health, environmental protection, climate resilience, and the rural and national economy.
Funding stagnation for public research is jeopardizing our future and shortchanging investments in the needed innovations to improve farm viability, rural vitality, public health, and food security. The current coronavirus crisis is linked to a zoonotic disease (disease that exist in animals that can infect humans) and the potential for this type of transmission is greatly affected by food and agriculture production and markets. This is just one example of where underfunding agricultural research yields depressing outcomes to both health and the economy.
In the opening missive of a what will be a concerted multiyear campaign to rectify the situation, 50 national organizations this week wrote to congressional leadership to urge a substantial increase in the funding allocation for the annual agriculture appropriations bill to accommodate increases in all the major components and USDA agencies that support research, education, extension, and economics. The letter was spearheaded by the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation, with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) playing a key role in drafting and circulating the letter.
The letter states boldly that strong funding for the agriculture bill and the research related programs “is a critical step toward meeting the Innovation Agenda and the United States reclaiming its global lead in food and agricultural science and technology. A renewed common commitment to advances in agriculture, food and nutrition, natural resources, and environmental sciences is required to improved national security, competitiveness, sustainability, climate resilience, and public health.”
The groups urge congressional leaders to make a down payment this year on a major reinvestment in public sector food and agriculture research and to “lead efforts next year to secure a long-term budget deal that includes a major rededication to this cause of returning the U.S. to its leadership role and positioning food and agriculture science to help solve major societal challenges with respect to economic opportunity, community wellbeing, health, and the environment.”
The letter supports funding for all four of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research mission area: Agricultural Research Service, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, Economic Research Service, and National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In addition to NSAC and the Riley Memorial Foundation, the letter was also signed by the Board on Agriculture Assembly of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and the Non-Land Grant Agriculture and Renewable Resources Universities. Many scientific disciplinary associations supported the letter as well.
Among agriculture groups, the National Farmers Union, American Soybean Association, and National Pork Producers Council were signatories. Among conservation organizations signing were the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and World Wildlife Fund. Several NSAC member organizations also signed on – Organic Farming Research Foundation, Food Animal Concerns Trust, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The lack of unity among players in the federal food and agricultural research space has been identified by the Riley Memorial Foundation and many others as a key reason for declining resources for the key agencies and programs. NSAC participates in several efforts, including this one, to try to develop a more unified message to reverse the trend and spur a major reinvestment, including for sustainable and organic farming systems research.
The letter was shared widely on Capitol Hill and is also being submitted as testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.