New Report Details Economic Boost From Federally Funded Agricultural Research as Congress Wrestles With Federal Government Support

Farmers, beset with a plague of economic complications after 2019’s weather calamities, will need more scientific innovation to thrive in the future


Contact: Dan Klotz, 301-280-5756 / dklotz@burness.com

WASHINGTON DC (April 29, 2020)—A report released today by the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation illustrates how federally funded agricultural research generates outsized economic benefits that extend for decades. The report was released as Congress works on federal spending for Fiscal Year 2021 and additional economic stimulus to address the COVID-19 pandemic-generated economic downturn.

“Agricultural research is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Thomas Grumbly, SoAR’s president. “Innovations developed today will feed our nation and the world for generations. But scientists need grants to cultivate those advances. Federally funded agricultural research has long been the bedrock for scientific enterprises; we need to keep researchers hard at work now more than ever.”

Innovation to Profit explores how federally funded research has strengthened farmers and ranchers’ bottomline by reducing costs and risks, increasing profits, and laying the groundwork for new products and industries. Research examples that have provided significant boosts to the agricultural sector include:

· USDA grants of $2.5 million that supported research of blueberry’s genetic traits and breeding and helped Florida’s blueberry industry grow from $500,000 in production value in the 1980s to an estimated $82 million annual value today.

· $15.5 million of USDA support, focused on improving wheat and barley for climate adaptation, generated varieties that now represent about 15% of the wheat and 4% of the barley harvested in the U.S., with a production value today of $1.8 billion and $61 million, respectively.

 · $3.3 million provided by the USDA for a collaboration at several universities that identified a genetic marker in pigs associated with resistance to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), a disease that costs the U.S. pork industry an estimated $664 million annually.

In the 1940s, almost 40% of American research and development spending was focused on agriculture. Today, agriculture research only accounts for 2% of federal research and development spending. The report explains that innovations can take years to develop; with so many current troubles, farmers need research investments now to stay afloat in the future.

At the start of 2020, COVID-19 was not among the biggest worries for the agricultural sector. Instead, farmers and food producers were concerned about recovering from a tumultuous 2019, in which more than 20 million acres of farmland were destroyed in the U.S. by floods. Overall, 2019 was both the second wettest and second hottest year on record, generating 14 weather and climate disasters that caused more than $1 billion in economic damages for the U.S. economy. The results for farmers were disastrous. Family farm bankruptcies in 2019 were up 20% compared to 2018.

The agricultural research funding drought is evident in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the USDA’s flagship program for competitively awarded research grants. The program was launched in the 2008 Farm Bill, which authorized the program’s funding level at $700 million. Yet budget politics every year prevent the program from hitting that level; its current fiscal year level is only $425 million. The White House budget proposal for FY2021 would provide $600 million, a welcome boost, but Congress has yet to negotiate a final dollar amount.

“Our nation’s food and agricultural sectors rely on scientific breakthroughs,”said Neil Dierks, chief executive officer of the National Pork Producers Council.“In the pork industry,destructive diseases continue to emerge.We need scientists to provide cutting-edge solutions and forecast what will come up next. Agricultural research helps farmers keep us all well fed.”

“Our farmers are struggling and many of them face the prospect of losing farms that have been in their families for generations,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “In order for farms to not only weather this storm today but be competitive in the global marketplace going forward, they need partners ready to invest in innovative thinking. The U.S. still holds the top spot for the most productive agricultural research system in the world, but public spending on domestic research and development has fallen over the last decade. We need to correct that so that agricultural research can continue to unlock ground-breaking solutions.”

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About the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation

The SoAR Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition working to educate stakeholders about the importance of agricultural research and focus more of our best minds on feeding America and the world. The SoAR Foundation advocates for full funding for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) to encourage top scientists from multiple disciplines to address agriculture-related challenges in order to improve public health and strengthen our economic competitiveness.

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