The 20th century was a time of massive changes in US agriculture. From farmers scraping a living out of the land to running multi-thousand-acre operations. From cowboys and cattle drives to feedlots. From horse-drawn plows to GPS-guided tractors.
These transformations produced abundant food, they write – allowing huge swaths of the population to escape the drudgery of farm labor, and enabled the economic growth that has undergirded modern American life, the authors say.
But after years of steady growth, public agricultural R&D funding in the United States is waning. The United States no longer leads the world in public agricultural R&D funding. Falling R&D investment threatens to forfeit the advantages and benefits of agricultural advancements in the face of increasing global competition and new threats, such as climate change, geopolitical strife, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congress should at least double funding for agricultural R&D, bolstering well-established agencies such as the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as expanding newer efforts such as the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Doing so would entail at least an additional $3.4 billion in annual funding. This additional support should be directed, in particular, toward areas that increase productivity and reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint while addressing other environmental concerns.
This additional support should be directed, in particular, toward areas that increase productivity and reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint while addressing other environmental concerns.
These R&D priorities include livestock breeding; genetic engineering; developing crops with deeper roots that sequester more carbon; improving meat and dairy alternatives; and creating low-carbon fertilizers that generate less runoff.