Thirteen prominent research institutions in the United States joined the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation today in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. “Retaking the Field,” the report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.
“Unlike the United States, China doubled its agricultural research and development funding investment between 2001 and 2008, resulting in an investment equivalent to $4 billion and a transformation of their economy,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell. “While we have seen private-sector support for agricultural research grow here in the United States, along with increases in private philanthropy, we look to the federal government for long-term investment across the spectrum of research, from applied to basic. These investments are needed to produce game-changing breakthroughs over time and allow agriculture to be the transformative technology it always has been.”
“Retaking the Field” looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the USDA, this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Even though every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.
“At Cornell, we study the science, sustainability and social aspects of food, drawing from a wide variety of disciplinary traditions,” said David Just, professor and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. “Making certain that consumers reach for healthy food is an important part of keeping our country’s agriculture sector healthy as well.”
A behavioral economist, Just’s work has shown how deploying marketing strategies used to generate impulse purchases can encourage children to eat better at school while cutting cost and waste without reducing overall availability of choices.
“Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources, and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” said Thomas Grumbly ’71, president of the SoAR Foundation. “However, the science behind agriculture and food production is starved of federal support at a time of unprecedented challenges. A new surge in public funding is essential if our agricultural system is going to meet the needs of American families in an increasingly competitive global market.”
Farming has never been an easy endeavor and today’s challenges to agricultural production are daunting. The historic California drought continues, and U.S. production is also threatened by new pests and pathogens, like the 2015 avian influenza outbreak that led to the culling of 48 million birds in 15 states and $2.6 billion in economic damages.
“Every year, the director of national intelligence testifies before Congress that our national security is threatened by hunger in unstable regions,” said Grumbly. “As the number of people on our planet continues to grow, we must produce more food. This cannot be done with yesterday’s science. We need a larger infusion of cutting-edge technologies.”