The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing on March 16th to discuss agricultural research in the next Farm Bill. OFRF attended the hearing and will continue working with members on the Subcommittee, as well as the full Agriculture Committee, to help ensure Congress and the USDA are dedicating vital agricultural research investments that support organic farmers, and those seeking to transition to organic agriculture.
At the hearing, Committee members heard from three witnesses who stressed the important role research plays in ensuring that American agriculture remains competitive and capable of addressing growing needs both at home and around the world. The three witnesses called by the panel include: Dr. Jay Akridge, Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University, speaking on behalf of American Public and Land Grant Universities. Mr. Richard Wilkins, a farmer and chairman of the American Soybean Association, speaking on the behalf of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, and Dr. James Carrington, President of the Danforth Center of St. Louis, MO. While there was a resounding echo for the need to continued federal investment into agricultural research, none of the witnesses discussed the importance of supporting research into sustainable organic agriculture.
In the past two decades, demand for organic products has skyrocketed, with organic sales going from $3.7 billion in 1997 to over $43 billion today. This growth is driven in part by the significant environmental, biological, and health benefits of organic agriculture, along with increased consumer demand for safe, healthy, sustainable foods. Yet, organic farmers in America are not able to keep up with the demand for organic foods. It is well established that public investment in agricultural research is crucial to create a viable and successful agricultural system. Unfortunately, the public investment in organic research programs has remained relatively level for the past decade.
The President’s budget outline currently calls for a 21% reduction in the agricultural budget. Many committee members were quick to point out that this reduction could have sweeping impacts on agricultural research, including the reduction of capacity funds used to support staffing at universities and research institutions, and ultimately the capacity that these institutions will have to respond to local needs, disasters, and issues faced by farmers.
This budget reduction may also impact the amount of funding invested in public research. The rise of agricultural productivity and the economic benefits of strong agricultural production has been made possible by sustained public investment in agricultural research. Yet public investment in agriculture research across the board has been on the decline in recent years. Witnesses and Committee Members were quick to point out the increased investment countries such as India, China, and Brazil are making in agricultural research and its impact on the competiveness of American farmers in the global marketplace.
There is already intense competition for federal research grants. Even within the small organic research programs, the success rates for OREI and ORG were at 18% and 17% respectively in 2016. Research drives productivity and competitiveness. With low funding rates and funding levels, OFRF will work to ensure that there is continued federal support for organic research, as well as continuing to provide grant funding to cutting edge organic researchers.
OFRF anticipates another research hearing that will likely have more focus on organic and specialty crops, and we are optimistic that we will have the opportunity to have an organic witness provide testimony. Stay tuned.
This blog was submitted by OFRF's Policy Associate, Michael Stein.