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Ag research: Study reports public spending on ag research critical to meet global food demand

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Agricultural Research Service, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Forest Service, the Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service comprise the five U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies funded to conduct agricultural research and development, according to American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Congressional Relations Direction Scott Bennett.  

“Between these five agencies, there’s about $4.2 billion for agricultural research, compared to a similar $4.1 billion 11 years ago in 2010,” Bennett says.  

Recently, AFBF and Farm Journal Foundation jointly commissioned a report to examine how more public spending on agricultural research is required to meet rising demands of the industry. The study, “Benefits of Increased U.S. Public Investment in Agricultural Research,” was conducted and authored by the IHS MarkIt Agribusiness Consulting Group.  

Need for research 

As global populations are expected to reach nearly 10 billion by the year 2050, the report notes food production will need to see an increase between 60 and 70 percent of current levels to meet the increased food demand of 2050.  

“Estimates of total factor productivity support the argument that agriculture production is not growing fast enough to sustainably meet the growing global demand for food, feed, fiber and bioenergy,” the report reads. “In order to meet the challenge of a growing global population, continual innovation in the agricultural sector is needed to improve efficiency by maximizing production.”  

Additionally, the study shares the success of U.S. agriculture is largely due to heavy investments in food and agriculture research, creating an industry to lead the world in production efficiency, productivity and food safety. In fact, this investment contributed to the U.S. being recognized as the world’s leader in agricultural product export.  

“Although funding for private agricultural research and development in the U.S. has been increasing rapidly, funding for public agricultural research and development has stagnated in recent decades,” the report continues. “When private companies invest in agricultural research, they must be able to recoup the cost of their research and provide a return to their investors. They do this by turning the resulting technology into something farmers will buy.” 

Bennett adds the U.S. might be in a position to lose competitive advantage in agricultural production and exports because of this stagnation in public research funding. 

Budget comparisons 

According to the report, budgets for USDA agencies tasked with agricultural research and development have been relatively flat over the last 10 years. In fact, over the same time period, China, Brazil and India have increased their inputs for publicly funded agricultural research.  

“Other countries are boosting their public investment in agriculture,” Bennett explains. “China became the largest funder of public agricultural research and development globally in 2009 with their funding increasing significantly since then.”  

He continues, “India and Brazil have also recently increased their public agricultural research and development funding. It is imperative the U.S. increase public research, so farmers have the latest and greatest tools in order to feed the world.” 

Additionally, the report shares, Europe has seen funding for agricultural research and development remain at similar levels, but the European Union Green Deal includes a 10 billion Euro proposal for research and innovation into areas such as food, agriculture, fisheries and other related areas.   

The report 

The commissioned report evaluates crop breeding and protection research, animal health research, research on animal disease and foodborne illness and disruptions to agriculture due to the effects of a pandemic as well as climate change and agricultural supply chains to benefit U.S. farmers and ranchers. 

“Shocks like COVID-19 expose vulnerabilities in the food systems,” says Bennett. “Research on handling a pandemic within the agricultural sector is currently very limited since they occur infrequently, and more investment is needed to improve supply chain resilience.” 

The report concludes, over the next several decades research to improve yields and production efficiency without causing damage to the environment will be vital.  

“Climate change, pandemics, animal diseases and crop pests and diseases all pose potential threats to the global agricultural economy,” states the report. “The stagnation in U.S. public spending on agricultural research and development will have negative implications for agriculture. Public research is needed to serve the public interest and feed the world.” 

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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