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Universities call for increased federal ag research funding

URBANA, IL -- In an effort to call for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural research, 13 research institutions in the United States joined the SoAR Foundation. 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.

Retaking the Field includes research at U of I that addresses farmers’ needs for timely information. “Farmers tell us that they need to access information in their tractors—which are now GPS-guided. This is where they do their office work today,” says Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin. Irwin and his team developed a website called Farmdoc to serve the agricultural community in the Corn Belt.  Updated daily, it now has over one million annual visitors.

“Farmdoc is a portal to information and decision tools,” Irwin says. “For example, when the most recent Farm Bill cut subsidies programs and expanded crop insurance, the Farmdoc team developed an interactive online tool to help farmers make sense of the new system.“

The report looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Although 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.

“Researchers are discovering incredible breakthroughs, helping farmers produce more food using fewer resources, and keeping our meals safe and nutritious,” says president of the SoAR Foundation Thomas Grumbly. “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 threatened by new pests and pathogens, such as 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,” says 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.”

The other 12 institutions are: Cornell University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Purdue University, Stanford University, Tuskegee University, University of Florida, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,  University of California- Davis, and Washington University in St. Louis.