Revving Up Research in the U.S. Farm Bill
In 2018, the reauthorization of the U.S. Farm Bill brings opportunity to rev up the research funding and structure for strengthening the United States global leadership for productive sustainable food systems.
R&D funding levels authorized in the current Farm Bill account for less than one percent of all Farm Bill spending. USDA’s annual research budget should be substantially increased to nearly double that of the current level to reinvigorate productivity in American agriculture and to ensure future sustainability of the sector. Current funding levels are inadequate to meet the need.
A promising development was the creation of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), established in the 2014 Farm Bill. FFAR is a non-profit corporation that leverages USDA’s research investments by mobilizing private-sector and foundation funds, usually at a $1 to $1 match, thereby doubling taxpayer investment. Research areas focus on improving soil health, improving protein production and making it more sustainable, reducing food waste and loss, overcoming water scarcity, and pollinator health and sustainable aquaculture programs. With $200 million authorized for FFAR, the leveraged total could eventually reach $400 million annually.
Exciting examples of FFAR funding that will bring direct benefit to consumers are seen in a recent “Seeding Solutions: Closing the Gap in Delivery of Fruit and Vegetable Benefits” grant, awarded to North Carolina State University with matching funds from Dole Foods and General Mills, among others. With a total investment of $2 million, researchers will study how to improve nutrient density of a range of consumer products through use of cutting-edge genetics and phenotyping technologies.