Ag Research was the farm bill title before the Senate Ag Committee on Tuesday, as USDA and other witnesses testified on the need to fund cutting-edge Ag research, the power behind modern, high-tech agriculture. But Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said before the hearing that it’s been neglected in past farm bills.
Grassley; “The United States is falling way behind our competitors in investing in Ag research. China’s now the largest funder of Ag research and development.”
A theme echoed at Senate Ag by USDA research chief Chavonda Jacobs-Young; “Federal investments in agricultural research have declined by a third in the past two decades, falling far behind our international partners. Once the world’s leader, the United States now trails far behind other major nations in public agricultural research investments.”
And why is that? Grassley; “It doesn’t have as many people working for it like you do, people for universities, working for the National Science Foundation.”
But producing food takes science—a lot of science according to Jacobs-Young; “When you talk to most Americans, they have no idea how high-tech agriculture is. And those things are only possible if you have broadband access, if you have smart young people, young people who understand biology and computer systems and informatics, who can come in and help us build AI systems and machine learning. And then we need traditional breeders, who can breed plants that can be mechanically harvested.”
Jacobs-Young said existing ARS and NIFA programs are helping, but today’s ag needs more bite-size, usable technology, more ways to reduce huge input costs, more veterinarians, and healthier foods to reduce exploding health care costs. And all of it will take more money.