By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division
To successfully address myriad challenges facing the United States and the world relating to food, agriculture and natural resources, Congress must increase its budget for competitive research at the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
When lawmakers devote more resources to AFRI, our nation’s best scientists and innovators will have more opportunities to work in the crucial fields of agriculture, where they can better examine the challenges impacting animals and plants as well as food safety and the environment.
Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the chairman and ranking member respectively on the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, are championing a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of AFRI. Together, they circulated a letter calling upon their colleagues in the U.S. House to support AFRI. More than 40 representatives answered that call to action. The congressmen plan to send the letter to the House Appropriations Committee at the end of March.
President Obama requested $450 million for AFRI in his fiscal 2016 budget request. This represents just 64 percent of the $700 million authorized for the program. Increased resources for AFRI are needed because more than half of the research grant proposals that are rated “highly innovative” are left unfunded due to budget constraints within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists who directly advise the Obama administration, issued a Dec. 2012 report urging Congress to fund AFRI at $500 million. The PCAST report concluded that it was time to move agricultural research ahead by greatly increasing funding for competitive grants. Furthermore, the report noted that competitively awarded research funding, such as AFRI grants, are paramount to addressing a number of challenges including animal diseases and emerging plant pest risks, among other issues.
For the past six years, China has outspent the United States in agriculture research funding. As the rapid rate of investment and productivity grows in foreign countries, our nation’s agricultural leadership around the world is weakened.
The AVMA and other member organizations of the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research, the Supporters of Agriculture Research and the AFRI Coalition, all support this campaign.