'Agbioscience' buoys South

'Agbioscience' buoys South

Ag, forestry, fisheries support 2 million jobs in South.

AGRICULTURE means $240 billion to the South's economy, an impact due, in part, to public research and innovation from the land-grant university Agricultural Experiment Station system and the Cooperative Extension Services, according to a new study by Battelle.

The study, "Impact & Innovation: Agbioscience in the Southern United States," released last month, found that agriculture, forestry and fisheries production supports more than 2.2 million jobs in the South, with labor income totaling $62 billion. Processing into value-added food and industrial products added $1 trillion in output across the region and supported nearly 4.6 million jobs, with labor income totaling more than $200 billion.

Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and BioDimensions, which performed the study, defined "agbioscience" as a range of development, production and value-added uses of plant and animals for food, health, fuel and industrial applications.

"The current and future importance of agbiosciences is hard to overstate," said Simon Tripp, a co-author of the report. "For instance, this science and industry sector is fundamental to the survival of the world's expanding population, the food security of our nation and the health of our population."

However, the report warns that inflation and lack of federal funding increases could put a damper on the public research and education that have helped U.S. agriculture become the most productive in the world.

"Being able to compete in the world agricultural economy requires constant innovation, practice improvement, new technology introduction, skills enhancement and global intelligence -- exactly the factors that the land-grant extension service and experiment station system was created to enhance, develop and support," the report says.

The Battelle report underscores a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service that found a direct link between public agricultural research and development and agricultural productivity (Feedstuffs, Aug. 8, 2011).


Financial squeeze

Europe, India, China, Singapore and other nations are continuing to invest in agbiosciences, the report says.

However, in the U.S., "we're facing cuts at the federal level (Table)," said Clarence Watson, associate vice president and director of the University of Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. "We just don't know how big or how it's going to be applied."

"State funding has been level, but our costs have been rising, and we're being squeezed," added Tony Windham, associate vice president and head of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. "Uncertainty at the federal level compounds the problem."

The Battelle report warns that "erosion of financial support for the land-grant extension service and experiment station system and, therefore, a reduction in the nation's ability to compete effectively in global agriculture and agbioscience ... can impede the nation's ability to feed itself, which in turn damages national food security."

The study included Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The study was commissioned by the Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and the Association for Southern Region Extension Directors.

The full report is available online at www.LSUAgCenter.com/SouthernAgbioscienceImpact.

Battelle prepared a related report in 2011 covering the North Central region (Feedstuffs, Aug. 8, 2011).


Challenges to extension service and experiment station system in the current environment


Challenges and issues


* Decline of federal funding, reducing capacity of extension service and experiment station system

* Potentially significant cuts to research and extension funding due to federal fiscal conditions

* A need to increase funding for agbioscience-related research and extension, via National Institute for Food & Agriculture, if land-grant universities are to fully address major issues and opportunities


* Rising tide of state fiscal crises limiting support to state universities, including extension service and experiment station system

* Fiscal problems for local counties limiting traditional local support for extension service

General public

* Lack of understanding regarding growing importance of agbioscience global issues and development opportunities

* Need for those benefiting from programs to voice system's impact and value with key decision-makers

* Need to communicate "public value" of programs

* Need to better connect message of "agriculture = food and economic security = nutrition = health"


* Increased institutional operating costs

* Increased federal/state regulations

* Increased competition for funding from social programs


Volume:85 Issue:14

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