US Senate Committee Hearing on the Farm Economy Showcases USDA Secretary Vilsack’s Influence on Agricultural Sciences
Testimony by Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, in front of the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry on September 21, highlighted a legacy of advancing current technology and research to help farmers and families across the country.
“Secretary Vilsack has long understood that farmers cannot prosper by relying on yesterday’s technologies,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation. “He planted the seeds for future economic growth by continually championing increased support for science budgets, especially the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).”
AFRI awards grants through a competitive process that applies the best scientific ideas to the problems facing farmers and consumers. Under Secretary Vilsack’s tenure, this program – established as part of the 2008 Farm Bill – has grown from $202 million to $350 million annually. The President’s budget this year included a proposal to double AFRI’s funding to $700 million, an ambitious push that reinforces the political imperative to make agricultural research support commensurate with the opportunities and challenges within the field.
“Secretary Vilsack’s leadership has been effective and inspirational,” noted Grumbly. “For the past eight years, he has been tested by the twists and turns of the US economy and commodity market volatility. And yet, Americans are now poised to reap the benefits of his dedication to investing in cutting edge research. We thank him for his service.”
In June 2016, the SoAR Foundation’s report, Retaking the Field, highlighted breakthrough research projects funded through USDA grants awarded during Secretary Vilsack’s time in office. The AFRI grants highlighted include:
- Iowa State University: Lisa Schulte Moore, PhD and Matthew Helmers, PhD, found that interspersing strips of native prairie in corn and soy crops reduces nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, provides habitat for pollinators, and improves water quality without significantly sacrificing production.
- Cornell University: David Just, PhD, figured out how to employ the same marketing strategies used to sell candy in grocery stores to get children to make healthier choices in school cafeterias.
- Tuskegee University: Woubit Abdela, PhD, Temesgen Samuel, PhD, and Teshome Yehualaeshet, PhD, developed a test for 25 strains of salmonella that can be done onsite in less than an hour instead of a two-week offsite process. They are also designing nanoparticles to remove food pathogens.
- University of Florida: Carrie Lapaire Harmon, PhD, developed an early detection lab for Florida’s diversifying agricultural sector to identify emerging pathogens before they become epidemics.
These are a few examples of the many AFRI-funded projects that demonstrate the immense potential of agricultural research to improve the lives of Americans.
# # #
For more information on AFRI, please read a USDA fact sheet on AFRI and its successes: