U.S. Department of Agriculture FY 2018 Appropriations Statement

April 4, 2017

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recommends that Congress approve $420 million in FY 2018 for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Mindful of current budgetary constraints, the level of funding requested is considerably lower than the $700 million authorized by Congress when it established AFRI in the 2008 Farm Bill, re-authorized in 2014. The ASM appreciates the Administration’s support of agriculture research in its FY 2018 preliminary budget, but believes the proposed $420 million is necessary to further AFRI funded research, education, and extension activities.

The AFRI program in USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture distributes competitive grants principally to land grant universities and tribal colleges, to advance agriculture related science and technology, workforce development, and public education. Despite U.S. agriculture’s enormous impact on our Nation’s standard of living, the federal share of agriculture R&D shrinks each year. By 2010, private sector R&D funding had surpassed public support, a trend that will negatively affect future innovation and agriculture based economies. AFRI supported basic research is long term. Training and public education supported by AFRI are not duplicated by research and development in industry. Federal funding for agriculture research is falling behind that of other nations emerging as direct competitors in the global marketplace.

Multiple analyses show that agriculture R&D has large returns on investment, both societally and economically. Since WWII, the total agricultural output in the United States has grown by about 170 percent, despite falling numbers of farmers and ranchers and declining acres in production. Besides growing abundant food for US consumers, US agriculture exports more than 20 percent of its annual production, which includes soybeans, corn, wheat, and beef. USDA forecasts estimate FY 2017 agriculture exports will reach $134 billion, with China as the largest market followed by Canada and Mexico. Those forecasts also estimate that the annual production value of the agriculture sector in FY 2017 to be nearly $400 billion. These impressive metrics are largely innovation driven, built on the foundations of basic and applied research aimed at increasing productivity and product safety.

The ASM urges Congress to recognize the broad significance of funding R&D programs related to agriculture. In the Agricultural Act of 2014, the Congress identified the USDA’s key research priorities: agricultural economics and rural communities; agricultural systems and technology; animal health and production and animal products; bioenergy, natural resources, and environment; food safety, nutrition, and health; and plant health and production and plant products. AFRI funding is essential to many of the extramural researchers seeking answers in these vital areas. AFRI supported studies underlie USDA strategies to stop threats to our food supply and public health, to develop food production, to preserve natural environments like our forests, and to help sustain the nation’s global competitiveness. AFRI funding contributes to nationwide initiatives like those against emerging infectious diseases or antibiotic resistant microbial pathogens. It plays an important national security role countering threats to the vast and potentially vulnerable U.S. food supply. AFRI also helps educate thousands of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students each year for careers in the agricultural, food, natural resource and human sciences, which are academic and labor sectors persistently understaffed.

Research across various sciences, engineering, mathematics, and technology, as well as by the agriculture producers themselves, collectively advances the complicated R&D enterprise linking productivity and U.S. agriculture. Protecting animal, plant, and human health and preserving prolific environments like timber and croplands commonly dictate multidisciplinary approaches. Often collaborations among agencies and/or between public and private research sectors are necessary. Access to the latest in science and technology within specific disciplines can be crucial to making discoveries, both in basic knowledge and in marketable products. Examples are today’s emergent areas of nanotechnology and agriculture related industries like biomanufacturing that are building the U.S. bioeconomy.

AFRI funded researchers are improving detection and prevention of potential foodborne illnesses caused not only by these regulated foods, but throughout the massive farm to table food continuum. Other researchers continue to identify new ways to prevent animal diseases like avian influenza and plant diseases like citrus greening disease, many with origins overseas and the potential to devastate agriculture based economies.

The ASM urges Congress to support the R&D innovations that advance U.S. agriculture productivity, safeguard our food supplies and rural environments, and help sustain the nation’s prosperity. We appreciate this opportunity to submit a statement on behalf of USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and its extramural grant program, and we offer our assistance to the Congress during the FY 2018 budget process.