An interesting new report from the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation (SoAR) shows that investing in agricultural research results in a long-term economic boost for the farm industry. The report comes as U.S. farmers are beset by slew of economic complications and Congress works on additional stimulus measures to address the pandemic-related fallout as well as its federal spending budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

“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.”  

The report, titled “Innovation to Profit ” looks at how federally funded research has strengthened farmers and ranchers’ bottom line by reducing costs and risks, increasing profits, and laying the groundwork for new products and industries. But, as SoAR’s research highlights, investment in agriculture has faded dramatically over the years. 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.  And as the report explains, innovations can take years to develop; with so many current troubles, farmers need research investments now to stay afloat in the future.

SoAR points to the USDA’s flagship Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) as evidence of the ag research funding drought. The program has an authorized funding level of $700 million but budget politics have prevented the program from ever hitting that level. In fact, the current fiscal year level is only $425 million. The White House budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 sets aside $600 billion, though Congress isn’t even close to negotiating the final number.

The report also highlights research examples that have provided significant boosts to the agricultural sector:

  • $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 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.
  • 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. (Source: SoAR)

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