The next federal farm bill should help mitigate the kinds of supply chain weaknesses exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritize publicly funded agricultural research and extension, and work toward a more equitable and resilient food system.
That is among the advice congressional leaders received during a two-hour listening session at the Broome County office of Cornell Cooperative Extension, followed by a tour of Cornell’s Guterman Greenhouse Complex, on April 14.
Every five years, Congress authorizes a new farm bill, which governs and provides funding for a host of agricultural and nutrition programs. The current bill is set to expire in September. Four members of the House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee – Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-PA 15th District), Marc Molinaro (R-NY 19th District), Nick Langworthy (R-NY 23rd District) and Derrick Van Orden (R-WI 3rd District) – attended the session and heard comments from farmers, researchers, extension agents, state-level leaders and agency staff, and members of the public.
“We recognize in upstate New York the value of farming and the economic engine that agriculture provides in this state and this country,” said Molinaro, whose district includes Ithaca. “As a young man who grew up on food stamps, I know the value of both the farms in our district and the experiences of those who struggle to access quality food.”
Jan Nyrop, former director of Cornell AgriTech and a recently retired professor of entomology, stressed the importance of public funding for agricultural research to maintain a secure food supply in the face of worsening climate change and other challenges. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the U.S. currently spends the same amount on agricultural research that it spent in 1970. Both the European Union and China spend more on such public research, and China spends twice as much, he said.
“The private sector has invested a lot in research – private sector research funding now exceeds that of the public sector – but the challenge is that the private sector is primarily driven by short-term needs and profit and it does not address all the big, long-term challenges that agriculture continues to face,” Nyrop said. He urged congressional leaders to “increase agricultural research funding from 2% to 4% of the total farm bill, invest more in fruits and vegetables, which are a basis for long-term health, and invest in research that provides for a more equitable and resilient food system.”
Chris Watkins, director of the statewide Cornell Cooperative Extension and a professor of horticulture, advocated for Congress to adjust the formula it uses to allocate federal funds for state-level extension services. The current formula disadvantages states such as New York and Pennsylvania, which have large urban populations, he said.
“In a world where the food supply and natural resources will become more difficult to maintain, extension support is more critical than ever,” Watkins said.
Other speakers asked for stronger federal support for dairy farmers, continued funding of conservation programs that benefit farmers and the environment, decreased regulations on farmers who want to grow industrial hemp, and policies to ensure land access for new and young farmers.
Thompson affirmed his commitment to crafting the farm bill in a cooperative, bipartisan manner and to completing it on time. He also urged interested members of the public to submit written comments to the committee.
“Science, technology and innovation have always been critical to agriculture,” Thompson said. “We want to build a platform for the farm of the future so we’re able to serve whatever’s over the horizon.”
Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.