UNDER President Barack Obama's 2015 budget request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Research, Education & Economics (REE) division is seeking funding of $2.9 billion, with $75 million for three new innovation institutes and $1.1 million for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
USDA chief scientist Catherine Woteki appeared before the House subcommittee on agriculture March 26 to defend the requests and provide an update on important developments.
The President's budget request includes a separate Opportunity, Growth & Security Initiative (OGSI) of $56 billion that is designed to spur economic progress, promote opportunity and strengthen national security through additional discretionary investments.
Woteki explained that REE is well represented in this package, with a request of $277 million in targeted investments. This includes $197.8 million for ARS, mainly to fully replace the Southeast Poultry Disease Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga.
In 2012, a review of ARS's capital infrastructure was completed, and the Athens lab was identified as the highest-priority facility recommended for modernization.
Construction of a new facility will enable USDA scientists to more adequately address emerging or exotic poultry diseases that threaten not only the nation's poultry industry but also public health, Woteki's written testimony explained.
During the hearing, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) said the Athens facility was USDA's number-one priority in last year's budget, although Congress chose not to fund the improvements.
Woteki said the facility remains the highest priority for the agency, and the hope is that by putting it within OGSI, it could be highlighted as an investment that allows USDA to "do more, better and do it more safely."
ARS administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young explained that the research facility was built 33 years ago with technology that is no longer innovative, and without modernizing the facility, the U.S. will lose its ability to stay on top of avian diseases.
In December 2012, the President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology recommended the creation of six large, multidisciplinary innovation institutes focused on emerging challenges to agriculture, supported by public/private partnerships, with an investment of $25 million for each institute.
In line with that recommendation, the budget will utilize $75 million to initiate the program and create three institutes focused on distinct areas of research.
Woteki said the innovation institutes will be public/private partnerships, so the research agenda will be determined in close consultation with private-sector contributors.
The first focus area for these institutes will be on pollination and pollinator health. In total, USDA is proposing to commit $71 million to this initiative in fiscal 2015, $48 million of which will be in the REE mission area.
A second institute will focus on building a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation consisting of regional hubs that will accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies by focusing on bio-based product development and manufacturing.
The third, the Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Institute, will address antimicrobial resistance through a systems approach from the farm to the consumer while engaging health-related practitioners, Woteki noted.
One of the largest tasks for USDA's research efforts in implementing the farm bill is the creation of an independent Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research.
Woteki said the foundation will provide a new way of working with partners outside the federal government that will supplement, not supplant or duplicate, ongoing research efforts within the department or with university partners.
The new non-governmental entity will have the ability to leverage $200 million in public funds to attract matching contributions from the private and nonprofit sectors. This funding infusion will provide a much-needed boost to the ability of the nation's agricultural research apparatus, both public and private, to address the most critical questions and problems producers face.
Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa) questioned USDA officials about what is being done regarding porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), which is estimated to have killed 5 million pigs already.
Jacobs-Young said there currently is no effective vaccine for the deadly virus. For now, one thing known about PEDV is that management practices help mitigate its spread somewhat. An important component will be to see how to impart immunity on older hogs since PEDV has the worst impact on newborn piglets up to three weeks old, she noted.
She added that the virus first reared its head in 2013 but said researchers are "making some progress," and they'll "get it figured out."