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Ash: U.S. innovation needs improvement

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Agriculture innovation is a competitive global market that is constantly changing, but there are changes U.S. agriculturalists need to be aware of.

The Farm Foundation organized a seminar on Sep. 29 titled, “U.S. Agriculture Innovations: Changes Needed for Global Competition” to look at some of the upcoming issues facing the ag industry.

“Nothing could be of more interest to the Farm Foundation than the topic of agriculture innovation as we take a look across the spectrum of global economy,” Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman commented.

A change in efforts

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) initiated an agriculture innovation review to examine global agriculture policies involving public and private research.

The agriculture innovation review started the same time as a G20 meeting in Mexico and a meeting for OECD in 2014.

“This is where we all began to ask, why it is we do such a good job of criticizing agriculture policy and such a lousy job of advising alternatives that might be more effective,” said OECD Trade Director and Agriculture Directorate Ken Ash.

A shift of efforts from the value of the reviews towards evaluating past experiences raised questions of what governments are trying to accomplish with the reviews, if their policies help accomplish those goals and if not, why not. Their main objective was to move away from criticism to constructive advice and related analyses.

OECD also wanted to reconstruct the idea that changing one policy would fix all problems.

“We all know that everybody responds to a package of incentives that influence behavior,” Ash said. “It’s about the entire set of policies.”

Moving forward

At another OECD meeting last year, Ash commented that the same conversation was considered, but this time, it included officials from 47 countries and the European Commission. To his surprise, all of the attendees agreed on one statement that he believes actually means something.

“The statement discussed the need to begin to shift the current policy orientation focus on productivity, competitiveness, profitability, sustainability, more efficient resources and resilience, as well as mitigating risks and managing the consequences of risks that couldn’t be avoided,” Ash stated.

He credits this event as the motivation for OECD to intensify work on the innovation reviews at a national level.

U.S. agriculture policy

“In agriculture policy discussions, there are some areas we don’t hear about all the time. We began by looking at the U.S. macro-environment,” Ash explained.

The U.S. has strong economic performance, efficient labor markets competitive business environments, good education and encouragement for entrepreneurs, he reported.

Simultaneously, U.S. growth and employment numbers are not ideal, he said. Along with high corporate income tax, individual income tax and the environmental regulatory system are below average by OECD standards.

Immigration policies were also flagged in the report and will need to be monitored because the movement of people matters for agriculture, Ash stated.

“There are particular areas of concern when we get outside the aggregate and there are some hot spots that warrant further attention,” Ash explained.

Policy environment

The U.S. has been a world leader in research and development productivity innovation for a long time. According to the innovation review, the agriculture innovation system is strong, as is the research and land-grant system.

“The U.S. has a chief scientist that, I would argue, will play a more important role in the future,” Ash stated.

Cullman added that public research has typically been the tool to meet the increasing needs for food, feed, fuel and fiber. 

Meanwhile, private research has risen for decades and began to take responsibilities that were previously served by public funding, added Cullman.

“The private sector is driven by different priorities than those driving public funding,” she commented, noting that subjects of study are different as a result.

Private sector spending on research and development (R&D) has doubled, while public sector spending has declined over the last decade, which Ash noted is significant in terms of the nature of R&D spending.

“What the public sector spends money on tends to look different than what the private sector spends money on,” he added.

Shared priorities

There needs to be a conversation about the nature of spending and shared priorities to allow developments to be applied, according to Ash. 

“I don’t want to make the impression it’s all about more money because I don’t believe that. I really think how we spend matters,” he stated.

A deeper public-private dialogue about what farm households want, what the industry needs, what priorities are, what the public sector does versus what the private sector does and what they might do together are points Ash believes need to be discussed, as well.

“There can be more cooperation, mutual benefit and shared learning if we worry less about borders and more about our share in the common interest,” Ash specified.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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