Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) delivered to the Senate and House agriculture committees a letter signed by nearly 1,000 scientists calling for increased funding for agricultural research programs in the upcoming food and farm bill.
“Farmers and ranchers face new and growing challenges as increasingly extreme weather, driven by climate change, makes farming more difficult, dangerous and unpredictable,” said Dr. Stacy Woods, research director for the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “The food and farm bill provides a once-in-five-year opportunity to secure a food system that can withstand climate change. Public agricultural research offers farmers more information about how to adapt to climate change and become part of the solution. Public research can lead to better tools for monitoring soil carbon and reveal the best practices for reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture, which would help mitigate global warming."
Over the last two decades, annual U.S. public investment in agricultural research and development has declined by a third, from a high of $7.64 billion in 2002 to $5.16 billion. Meanwhile, public agricultural investment in China, the European Union and Brazil has continued to rise.
This decline in the U.S. has left key areas of research underfunded. Currently, more than half of Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) proposals deemed worthy by expert review panels go unfunded, simply because not enough funding is available. Funding for research at the intersection of food production, environmental sustainability and nutrition, known as sustainable nutrition science, receives just 25 cents out of every thousand dollars in federal research spending, leaving upwards of two-thirds of proposals unfunded every year. And federal agencies focused on agriculture and health invest less than $7 per farmworker on research to protect these workers from the myriad threats they face while tending and harvesting our food, from extreme heat and toxic pesticides to food insecurity and violence.
Increased investment in agricultural research has wide-reaching benefits. Based on historical trends, each additional dollar of public agricultural research spending generates an average of $20 in benefits to the U.S economy.
UCS is calling for the federal government to triple its investments in sustainable nutrition research and education to at least $50 million, and double funding for National Institute of Food and Agriculture research that engages workers in the food and farm system as research partners.