Agriculture research budget cutbacks passed recently by the House Appropriations committee could not come at a worse time. With the world population projected to reach 9 billion within 40 years, and the soaring demand for food, robust ag research should continue at a brisk pace, or increase. Instead, lawmakers are cutting back.
To remain competitive in the long term, every business needs to employ the latest technology, apply the most productive methods and incorporate the latest techniques. Farming and food production is no exception.
If the House budget cuts are signed into law, however, agriculture research funded by the federal government would be reduced approximately 20 percent, or more than $600 million, from previous year levels.
As a result, U.S. agriculture colleges and universities are considering program cutbacks and staff layoffs that will slow the development of solutions vital to feed the rapidly expanding population. Dwindling state budgets further complicate matters.
Penn State University’s budget for agricultural research, for example, will be cut by 19 percent. The University of Georgia has laid off 18 workers and sold a farm.
The disturbing trend will have future consequences. “People may not see the impact tomorrow but they will see long-term that not investing now means we'll have more problems in the future,” according to Beverly Durgan, dean of the University of Minnesota Extension program.
While the cutbacks do not spell the end of current and ongoing university research programs, institutions involved will be forced to develop creative solutions. Merging programs and joining forces will become necessary under the budget reduction scenario to continue providing the advancements that U.S. farmers rely on.
Coordination among universities and other research institutions will be essential to make the best use of declining funding. Ag research priorities will need to be set and new efficiencies developed for maximum research output.
The decline of agricultural research is a trend we must come to grips with before consequences for food production are too great. With the challenge of extraordinary budget cuts, farmers and livestock producers must develop additional resources to provide research answers.
National and state producer organizations such as the American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Board will need to increase research funding to provide members with advances in production methods and technologies needed to keep their constituents competitive.
Increasing involvement by the private sector is another key to improving agricultural and rural development that will ensure the world's future agricultural needs are met. Privately funded research programs will be a growing necessity to fill the growing ag research gap.
United States agriculture has faced many challenges in the past. The current challenge will be overcome and agriculture will again prevail. However, the work must begin now to ensure that U.S. farmers continue the improvements in productivity which have placed the United States at the pinnacle of an abundant and safe food supply.