In research, US investments now lag behind China

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a groundbreaking report in April 2015 on the “innovation deficit.” According to the report, the federal government is abandoning the pursuit of progress by cutting back its funding of scientific research, and leaving it for other countries to accomplish the breakthroughs.

The numbers are startling. In 1968, a little over 9 percent of the federal budget was spent on research and development—$16.2 billion out of $178 billion, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Today, only 3.6 percent of the current budget is spent on R&D—$134.2 billion out of out of $3.8 trillion.

One of the report’s case studies highlights the plant sciences. The Chinese government’s investments in food and agricultural science have exceeded the U.S. for several years now. The accompanying chart illustrates that the trend lines show no sign of changing.

The report notes:

“Investment in basic plant-related R&D is already far below that of many other fields of science. Yet the agriculture sector is responsible for more than two million U.S. jobs and is a major source of export earnings.”

Many of the greatest scientific discoveries in agriculture have been made in the U.S. Past research has helped increase farm yields and ward off the diseases and viruses that infect the plants and animals that we grow.

A new set of challenges have now emerged. Over the last 15 years, most of the Midwest and western parts of the country have experienced some degree of drought. More research can help farmers anticipate drought and adapt with farming practices and varieties of crops and animals that require less water.

Though we are used to enjoying abundant orange juice to start our days, citrus greening disease has killed millions of citrus plants in Florida and the southeastern U.S. and is threatening to spread.

Food poisoning sickens 48 million Americans a year, sending nearly 128,000 people to the hospital.  Additional research can help us understand how food becomes contaminated and how to prevent the illnesses that food poisoning causes.

Researchers at universities and labs throughout the U.S. are on the path to achieving important advancements and creating innovative solutions to multiple complex problems.  However, this will require significantly greater investment in research by the federal government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Today’s investments will help to ensure that the U.S. will be a leader in providing food for the hungry and improving public health while remaining competitive in the global economy and closing the innovation deficit.

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