AGRICULTURAL scientists warn that failing to invest in agricultural research could spell disaster for the future of U.S. food security and safety; funding has become stagnant and has fallen far behind other federal agencies since the 1970s.
The new Charitable Agricultural Research Act seeks to address the issue by creating agricultural research organizations (AROs) that would work in conjunction with land-grant universities and colleges of agriculture to conduct research in the field of agriculture.
The establishment of AROs will complement existing public and private research and also create the opportunity for previously under-funded projects to be fully funded, such as projects addressing specialty crops or specific diseases.
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) introduced the bill with Reps. Devin Nunes (R., Cal.) and Ron Kind (D., Wis.). The bill is designed to help spur new agricultural research by leveraging private dollars to create charitable partnerships between universities and private entities.
The bill — S. 1280 in the Senate and H.R. 2671 in the House — amends the tax code to allow for the creation of new charitable, tax-exempt AROs, which are similar to medical research organizations that have successfully supported innovation in medical sciences since the 1950s.
U.S. Department of Agriculture chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics Dr. Catherine Woteki told Feedstuffs that the agency is very supportive of the bill because it would be particularly helpful to land-grant universities and their colleges of agriculture.
Woteki, who spent time as the dean of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University, knows firsthand the challenges in trying to increase funding for agricultural research. "We see it as a nice complement to the publicly funded research that we provide, as well as other USDA government agencies, to universities," she said.
Woteki added that support for biomedical research through the congressional appropriations process is substantially higher than for agricultural research: The National Institutes of Health receives $30 billion annually, while agricultural research is appropriated just $2 billion.
She noted that the organizations that lobby on behalf of the pharmaceutical and hospital industry tend to have one voice and are able to unite behind the need for biomedical research funding.
"In agriculture, we have many voices, but we don't have that unity of voice in support for agricultural research," which is a disadvantage, Woteki said.
Thune said the bill will encourage private donors to help meet shortfalls in agricultural research funding and will provide a new investment tool for donors wishing to dedicate their own resources to agricultural research.
"Production agriculture's current economic strength is a direct result of research that, among other things, has increased crop yields, made livestock healthier and made food safer. Our bill will facilitate the transfer of much-needed private funding to agricultural research," he said.
Kind added, "This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will help create incentives for charitable donations so we can strengthen the connection between the private sector and the agricultural research industry and ensure that America stays on the cutting edge of agricultural innovation and production."
Stabenow called the approach a win-win effort that builds on decades of success and momentum by continuing to pursue new research and in a cost-effective way by engaging the private sector.