Research Funding Can’t Stand Still in 2018 Farm Bill as Farmers Face Greater International Competition

WASHINGTON, DC (April 12, 2018)—The House version of the 2018 Farm Bill was introduced today with adjustments to the research title—including modifications to matching grant requirements and an increase in indirect costs—but did not include an increase in the authorizations for major grant-making programs of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). These programs, which once set the standard for scientific innovation, have not seen major changes since 2008.

“We appreciate that the bill, as released, has helped to remove barriers that keep some outstanding scientists from participating in USDA research,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation. “But we also think more needs to be done now in funding new agricultural research that will meet the needs of our children and grandchildren, in a world that will have 2.5 billion more people in only 30 years.”

The Farm Bill sets the priorities and scope of the USDA every five years. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the USDA’s research programs were reorganized and AFRI was established as a new program to award grants through a competitive, peer-reviewed process. But the reorganization did not result in significant amounts of new funding. Though public investment in other forms of domestic research has increased, the U.S. agricultural research budget has declined in real dollars since 2003 and the Chinese government now leads the world in agricultural research investments.

In October, 2017, a broad coalition of 66 organizations called for the agency’s entire research, education, and extension budget to be doubled to $6 billion in the 2018 Farm Bill. Commodity groups, universities, advocacy organizations, and scientific societies all joined this call, which also pushed for significant changes to how the federal government invested in the agricultural sciences.

“We want to see AFRI authorized and then appropriated to at least $1 billion per year, and we look forward to working with both the House and the Senate to achieve this goal,” said Thomas Grumbly. “The USDA was founded as the ‘People’s Department’ by President Lincoln in the middle of our gravest national crisis, the civil war. It was created primarily to bolster the knowledge and education that helped America to lead the world. Now, as China has overtaken us in ag research, the 2018 Farm Bill provides an opportunity to reassert our leadership.”

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