House Ag Committee focuses on university research funding needs

Hearing focuses on opportunities and challenges institutions face in ensuring U.S. remains a world leader in agricultural research and scientific advancement.

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss investments in agricultural research as a continuation of the committee’s hearing series on preparing for the next farm bill. Chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and members of the committee heard from various university representatives on the opportunities and challenges institutions face in ensuring that the U.S. remains a world leader in agricultural research and scientific advancement.

In opening comments, both Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) recognized the vital role research plays in the industry’s future and acknowledged that the farm bill should provide funds to continue supporting agricultural research.

“I would like to see the next farm bill continue our commitment to ag research in a way that allows for continued advancement but also recognizes our budget challenges, because ag research is the foundation of continued innovation in agriculture. Along with increased productivity, ag research has led to improvements in individual health and the environment, among other benefits,” Peterson said.

Conaway said, “Research is the driving force behind American agricultural innovation. Farmers and ranchers have long depended on advances in science and innovation to carry on through tough economic times. The current state of the rural economy only further underscores the need to continue making key investments in our agricultural research system. While our nation's serious budget issues must be addressed, we must do so without jeopardizing our status as the world leader in cutting-edge agricultural research.” 

Robert Duncan, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual research budget of $2.9 billion (2017 requested budget) is disproportionately less than other federal research programs. He called for continuing support and increasing the funding for the Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture competitive capacity-building program. This competitive program has received approximately $5 million in annual funding since 2012, which is comparatively small. Still, he testified that “these funds are going a long way at improving research and education in agricultural sciences and natural resources management.”

Dr. Glenda Humiston, vice president of agriculture and natural resources at the University of California, said a concern is that there will be little appetite to find new funding in the 2018 farm bill to deal with deferred maintenance problems at research facilities.

“It will be important for members of Congress to carefully examine how the research, teaching and extension facilities at public universities should be included in the public infrastructure projects eligible for any federal program. Dealing with the deferred maintenance of these facilities is of paramount need and should be given strong consideration for new funding in the 2018 farm bill. To stretch such dollars, it would be reasonable to require that matching funds be required to receive federal funds,” Humiston testified.

Following the hearing, Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation, said as the 2018 farm bill is drafted and debated, the foundation looks forward to keeping agricultural science programs such as the Agriculture & Food Research Institute, USDA’s flagship competitive research program.

“As deliberations on the next farm bill begin to heat up, the high temperatures that have descended on American farmland remind us that farmers everywhere can’t beat the heat without more science,” Grumbly said. “Innovation is key as farmers and food producers wrestle with unstable markets for their inputs and outputs. This innovation is driven by federally funded agricultural research, which provides the basic research foundation for all of the high-tech answers.”

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