Budget cutting, seemingly among the main objectives in Congress these days, poses an unprecedented threat to agricultural research. If budget cuts proposed by the House of Representatives are signed into law, ag research funded by the federal government would be reduced approximately 20 percent, or more than $600 million, from previous year levels.

“My response to this trying U.S. budget situation is to point out that investing in agricultural research is an investment for everybody,” says Catherine Woteki, chief scientist and undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics for the USDA. “That’s why it’s important that the federal government continue to find ways to fund research that helps the country’s food and fiber system.”

Already, funding cuts by individual states have resulted in college and university cutbacks in agricultural research projects. 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.

Woteki’s job includes overseeing the Agricultural Research Service, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, Economic Research Service, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“I talk first about the payoff for farmers, in new technology that they can use to increase their productivity and reduce their costs. Woteki said. Effective ag research programs also pay off for the general public in a wider variety of foods available, and in reasonable food prices. USDA economists have found that every dollar invested in agricultural research has a $20 return to the American economy.

She noted that ag research increases the country’s ability to export goods, and balance trade with other countries. “In order to maintain that important part of our exports, which is important to our economy, our investment in agricultural research is all the more important,” she said. As chief scientist for USDA, Woteki makes sure that decisions made by USDA are scientifically sound.