ASM and Partners Welcome Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

March 2, 2021

After a largely cooperative and bipartisan process, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack has been confirmed by the Senate as the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack formerly served as the nation’s 30th Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama. ASM and partners wrote the following letter congratulating the new Secretary, encouraging him to increase support for agricultural research at USDA.

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Dear Mr. Secretary:

Congratulations on your recent confirmation to be Agriculture Secretary for President Joseph R. Biden. Thank you for your previous strong support of agricultural research, education, extension and innovation. With the ongoing battle against COVID-19, efforts to end inequity in our food and agricultural systems, efforts to strengthen that food system in light of the pandemic, and a reenergized focus to address climate change, we strongly urge you to continue that support for increased public investments in agricultural research and development (R&D) programs.

A recent study found that U.S. public agriculture R&D spending from 1910 to 2007 returned, on average, $17 in benefits for every $1 invested.1 Increased funding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research and development programs will invest in our rural communities and give our farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers the tools needed to manage current and future challenges they face, such as crop and livestock pests and diseases, invasive species, financial and climate change. By providing solutions to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, farmers can be a part of the solution while improving our Nation’s food security.

The federal share of overall R&D spending as a percentage of GDP is now at its lowest point since the 1950s, and food and agriculture lags even further behind most other federal R&D areas. Agricultural research funding at the USDA has remained fairly flat over the last 50 years. In contrast, funding for other Federal research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, has increased 10- to 20-fold during the same period. Additionally, other countries, including Brazil, China and India, are investing heavily in agricultural R&D, while the United States is falling behind.

Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released an analysis of the impact of the Budget Control Act on R&D funding. They concluded that the overall rate of R&D growth from 1978-2008 was 5.7%, before the Budget Control Act was signed into law. The White House Office of Management and Budget’s historical data shows that R&D programs at the USDA had an overall funding growth rate of 3.5% over the same time period. AAAS concludes that the "cumulative 'lost' federal funding may amount to $96 billion for basic and applied research, and $240 billion for total R&D. In other words, if R&D agencies had simply grown at their historical pace, the (annual) R&D budget would today be about $33 billion or 20% larger.”

Increased investment in research, education, extension and economics programs is a crucial step for the United States to reclaim our global lead in food and agricultural science while meeting the country's nutritional needs and rising to its climate challenges. We strongly support a balanced portfolio that includes both extramural and intramural research, competitive and capacity funding, extension and outreach, and statistics and economics. While each of our organizations may have a particular research priority, we join together in this urgent call to substantially increase public investment in food and agricultural research and scientific innovation.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to working with you to advance science and innovation.

Download the Letter and List of Participating Organizations

Author: ASM Advocacy

ASM Advocacy
ASM Advocacy is making it easy and providing opportunities for members to advocate for evidence-based scientific policy.