Hearing Update: House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Holds Hearing to Discuss Agricultural Research

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – March 24, 2017

On March 16, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing to discuss agricultural research programs and priorities: one of a series of hearings to examine all titles of the next farm bill.  Witnesses included Dr. Jay Akridge, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University; Richard Wilkins, Chairman of the American Soybean Association; and Dr. Jim Carrington, President of the Danforth Plant Science Center.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Rodney Davis (R-IL) praised the work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), noting that agricultural research is vital to the success of the American economy.

Most notably, there was consensus from both Committee Members and witnesses that federal investments in agricultural research continues to fall short.  This stagnation will likely have long-term implications for our global competitiveness, as China and other competitors continue to invest significantly in research.  Per the discussion of funding constraints, Dr. Carrington testified that the budget for AFRI should reflect the breadth of its responsibilities, and that a streamlined application process would encourage broader participation from the research community.

While Members acknowledged bipartisan support for agricultural research, President Trump’s proposed $4.7 billion cut to USDA overall, despite flat “protected” funding for AFRI, dominated the hearing.  This included a high-level discussion on the impact of proposed cuts, as well as the expansion of private sector funding to fill potential gaps in government funding, though specific strategies to leverage federal dollars to encourage this industry investment was not elucidated.

Drs. Carrington and Akridge were questioned about specific technologies that have resulted from federal research awards, as well as issues they have experienced with the AFRI application process and administrative structure.  Chairman Davis expressed concerned that the overburdening regulatory system was preventing valuable technologies from reaching the public, a point echoed by other Members.  Rep. Lawson (D-FL) questioned the role institutions of higher education have in advancing research priorities and bolstering workforce development, which spurred a larger conversation on the importance of STEM education in preparing for and addressing critical issues in the agricultural sector.  Overall, the concerns of the Committee echoed those of the witnesses and there was a general awareness and support for agricultural research.

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