01.5.2016

NY Times op-ed highlights the need for more agricultural research

In an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning biologist Philip Sharp and Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus of American Association for the Advancement of Science, discuss the lack of publicly funded scientific research focusing on agriculture and food production.

According to the op-ed, just after the Dust Bowl years in the 1940s, almost 40 percent of American research and development spending was focused on agriculture. Today, farm production has slowed dramatically in the United States and agriculture research is no longer a priority, comprising only 2 percent of federal research and development spending.

California, which produces more of 66 different food crops than any other state in the US, is highlighted as a key example of why more food science is required. With no clear end in sight to the state’s current drought, farmers will need new solutions for their fields to thrive.

The two authors, board members of the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation, note that a solution to this problem is already up and running: the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI is the primary source of competitively awarded federal research grants for the agriculture and food sciences. But as the op-ed notes:

“Despite a $25 million increase in the omnibus budget agreement, the budget of [AFRI] sits at half of what Congress authorized in 2008 when it created the program. In the 2014 fiscal year, the program’s peer-review process identified approximately $1.1 billion in grants as worthy of funding, but the program could dispense only $270 million.”

The piece appeared in print shortly before President Obama’s State of the Union address, which is being presented on Tuesday, January 12. The State of the Union has always signified the start of the federal budget process, with Congressional hearings related to the next year’s budget beginning shortly thereafter.

The need for more agricultural research continues to grow more obvious. AFRI provides solutions that will help families set the dinner table ten years from now. Increasing the flow of food science to farmers is vital for a healthier future.

To read the opinion piece, please visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/04/opinion/we-need-a-new-green-revolution.html

To read the SoAR Foundation’s news release on the December 2015 omnibus budget agreement, please visit: http://supportagresearch.org/federal-budget-agreement-shows-that-congress-recognizes-the-need-for-more-agricultural-research/

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