Why this concern with the role of agriculture science? Many people believe the United States has always been and will always be the world leader in research. For many decades this was the case. It is one of the reasons why agriculture has been the bedrock of the US economy, sustaining strong communities around the country. But, our public investments in agriculture have been declining and are now outpaced by other countries, such as China, India and Brazil. USDA R&D funding was just 1.6% of the agency’s budget in 2016 – the lowest on record and about half what it was in the 1970s, despite studies showing that every R&D dollar generates $32 in benefits returned to the economy.
Research is an investment in our future. It helps fuel the economy, strengthens US universities and research centers, enables US farmers to maintain their competitiveness, and builds resilience in farming communities. It creates international partnerships to tackle common challenges to ensure food safety and prevent the spread of plant and animal diseases. It asserts US leadership in creating a stable, prosperous world in which hunger is only a memory.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s led to increased farm productivity and saved millions from starvation. A 21st Century Green Revolution is needed now to address the challenges we have today – population growth amidst changing demands for more protein-rich diets, increased urbanization, weather-related events resulting from climate change, and increased strains on natural resources like soil, water and forests. With the ease of transportation, there is no longer a bright line that demarcates domestic research from international research. Rather, knowledge-sharing and collaboration are the keys to the future.
For policy makers, this is a pivotal year to consider farm policies. We offer these principles to support their efforts and to educate on the value of agriculture R&D.
· Domestic and international research should work together on common goals. USDA should have the authority to fund international activities, particularly since they will likely have a domestic impact, and should build on their current partnerships with USAID.
· R&D in agriculture, nutrition, and food systems advance US economic and security interests. It maintains a US competitive edge and helps to reduce global hunger and poverty that can undermine political stability.
· Funds can be used most effectively by identifying priorities and removing barriers to greater collaboration among researchers. Funds need to be used for greatest impact, which often occur through partnerships.
· Americans benefit from partnerships between domestic and international research organizations. Collaboration helps to prevent and respond to plant and animal diseases and promote food safety.
· Farmers deserve rapid access to research and to innovative technologies through the marketplace. This includes a regulatory environment that is evidence-based and market-oriented.
· R&D should encompass nutrition and food systems to better support food security. Biofortification technology can help rid the world of malnutrition and hunger.
· Public funding has value and serves a purpose above and beyond that of the private sector. Public funding has a high return on investment and is often dedicated to research unattractive to the private sector.
· We need to build the next generation of scientists. Without a cadre of scientists, the United States will soon fall further behind other countries that are making the necessary investments in the future.
Based upon historical data, U.S. leadership in these key areas of agriculture research and development promises to boost our economy, support U.S. farmers, address complex scientific challenges, and promote stability and prosperity as we seek to feed a global population of 9.8 billion by 2050. These positive and worthy outcomes indeed merit U.S. leadership.