The U.S. should increase support for agricultural research and development (R&D) in the next Farm Bill to ensure that farmers can keep feeding the world in spite of challenges from climate change and other shocks, according to a report produced jointly by Farm Journal Foundation and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Hotter temperatures, droughts, floods, spreading pests and disease, and other natural disasters have reduced global agriculture productivity gains in recent years, according to the new policy report. Consumers are paying higher prices for food, while farm livelihoods are under pressure from rising costs of fuel, fertilizer, and other inputs. In addition, increasing hunger in low- to middle-income countries can potentially lead to more migration and conflict, creating risks for U.S. national security.
New innovations generated from agricultural research at land-grant universities and other public sector institutions can help increase farm productivity and economic growth. In spite of this, U.S. public investment in agricultural R&D has declined in recent years in inflation-adjusted terms. The 2023 Farm Bill offers a once-every-five-year opportunity to increase funding to public agricultural R&D and ensure that the U.S. is prepared for the challenges ahead, according to the report, which makes a series of recommendations for how the Farm Bill can prioritize agricultural innovation.
“Climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 have created huge challenges for global food and nutrition security, and both farmers and consumers are facing higher costs,” said Katie Lee, Vice President of Government Affairs at Farm Journal Foundation. “Agricultural innovation is absolutely critical to ensure safe, abundant, and affordable food supplies, and the Farm Bill provides an important opportunity to increase public support.”
Agricultural research provides one of the highest returns of any public research investment, generating $20 on average for every $1 spent, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS). Since 1995, agricultural research funding from within federal and state governments has declined in real terms, from about $6.5 billion down to $5.2 billion as of 2019. During the same period, inflation-adjusted public sector spending in all research areas in the U.S. increased by nearly 150 percent.
Public research investment is needed to complement private sector spending. The private sector invests deeply in a limited set of areas where it can profit in the short-term, such as crops including corn and soybeans. However other important commodities, including wheat, rice, and specialty crops, have seen significantly less private sector investment, as have research subjects like environmental, animal health, nutrition, and food safety research. These areas, which help society broadly, can benefit from increased public-sector research support.
“Public investment in agricultural R&D is critical to ensuring the U.S. remains resilient to current and future challenges. The 2023 Farm Bill offers an important opportunity to set the stage for the next five years of agricultural policy, and has an extremely strong return on investment that promises widespread benefits for all facets of society,” said Peggy Yih, Managing Director of the Center on Global Food and Agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
To read the full report, including policy recommendations put forward by Farm Journal Foundation and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, please click here.