Congressional budget deal lifts agricultural research—$400 million for AFRI, USDA’s flagship competitive research program in FY 2018

WASHINGTON, DC (March 23, 2018)—The budget omnibus agreement reached by Congress for FY 2018 today includes a $25 million increase for the US Department of Agriculture’s flagship competitive research program and a $140 million increase for the agency’s research, education, and economics portfolio. The budget for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) has now reached $400 million, with the last three fiscal budgets providing a total 23 percent boost.

“The need for more agricultural research has never been more clear,” said Thomas Grumbly, President of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation. “We’re pleased with Congress for pushing this agreement through. Only through a healthy investment in science can we develop more resilient food systems that protects the well-being of farmers and consumers.”

Grumbly noted that Hurricane Harvey disrupted operations containing more than a quarter of Texas’s cattle herd. Florida—which previously lost more than two-thirds of its citrus output in the past 12 years to citrus greening disease, suffered $2.5 billion in losses because of Hurricane Irma. California started 2017 with torrential rains that eliminated an epic drought, but ended the year with more drought that brought on devastating wild fires.

The budget deal was made possible when Congress agreed to lift the spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Congress is also preparing for the next Farm Bill, the authorizing legislation that outlines the U.S. government’s agricultural policy for the next five years. The 2008 Farm Bill established the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the USDA’s flagship source for competitively awarded grants, and set the program’s budget at $700 million.

While this year’s increase brings the program budget to its highest level, it has not reached its 2008 Farm Bill authorized amount of $700 million. In AFRI’s ten-year history, it has only had sufficient resources to fund one fifth of all the grants that were recommended by its peer-review process.

Most of the USDA’s research programs have faced uneven funding for years, even as other fields in the federal research agenda have grown dramatically. As a result, USDA has received less than 4 percent of the federal research budget since 2009, down from almost 40 percent in 1940.

“Despite all of the partisan differences, Congress is still united on the need to bolster our nation’s farmers with more cutting-edge science,” said Tom Grumbly. “And, given all the recent disasters that have impacted the food sector, this is a very good thing.”

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