By Jessica Domel
Multimedia Editor

With a tight budget and the next farm bill just around the corner, U.S. senators are examining what role agricultural research plays in our society.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry met Thursday morning to gather perspectives on past and future successes of agricultural research through the farm bill.

The meeting was the fourth the committee has held in preparation for the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas kicked off the hearing with a quote from President John F. Kennedy he said is still accurate today.

“Today, American agriculture is in the grip of a technological revolution as vast and as rapid as any in history. It is a revolution, which has made the American farmer the most efficient in history. It has made his productivity the marvel and envy of every nation. Experts from all over the world come to see our farms, to study our techniques and learn our methods. And the farm technology we have developed here in the United States holds out hope to the world for the first time that no man, woman or child on earth needs to go hungry again,” Roberts read.

But budgets are tight. Commodity prices are low. And farm income is down for many.

Despite all those factors, we must continue to focus on agricultural research, Roberts noted.

“Times are tough in farm country, and research is indeed the backbone that drives agricultural change, efficiencies and productivity,” Roberts said. “And the U.S. must continue leading the charge to feed a growing population by 2050.”

Agricultural research is more than the innovative work happening each day at land grant universities and research institutions.

For every dollar invested in agricultural research, more than $20 is returned to the U.S. economy. Ag research allows American farmers to be competitive globally.

“From innovative robotic technology to precision agriculture, our scientists are pushing the bounds of what’s possible to create new opportunities in agriculture,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, Committee Ranking Member, said.

Breakthroughs in research have made it possible for bio-based products to enter the marketplace, Stabenow said. That contributes $393 billion to the U.S. economy and supports more than 4.2 million jobs.

Research also supports the growing organic food system and the development of new biotech crops.

“Research is our number one tool to protect our farms from threats to our food system,” Stabenow said.

In instances where evasive species are destroying crops, researchers have been able to help farmers. In Michigan, cherry harvest is threatened. In Florida, citrus greening, or huanglongbing (HLB), is devastating orange groves. In Kansas and other wheat-growing states, rust is attacking the crop.

“Our agricultural researchers are stepping up to the plate to address these challenges, but the need for more investment far exceeds current funding to tackle these threats,” Stabenow said.

The need for agricultural research is not new. In fact, the nation’s leaders recognized the importance of research in 1852 when the U.S. Land-Grant College system was created through the Morrill Act.

“Because of the early investment U.S. leaders made in agriculture research and extension efforts, our producers are better equipped to manage through droughts, disease, floods, fires and a great deal more that Mother Nature throws at them,” Roberts said.

Despite advancements in technology, today’s farmers still must bear all that Mother Nature offers and more.

“Farmers are combating new pests and diseases and unpredictable weather patterns. Livestock producers rely on best management practices supported by accurate data and information to continually improve their production efficiencies,” Roberts said. “At the same time, scientists must work to ensure consumers have accurate, science-based information regarding the nutritional benefits in foods that consumers are demanding.”

Together, Roberts and Stabenow have created the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, which leverages public investments with private funding for innovative research.

Looking to the next farm bill in 2018, Roberts told the committee they must find a way to do more with less, to reduce the burdens of overregulation and ask the tough questions as they examine farm bill programs for effectiveness.

The full committee hearing, and the testimony of those asked to speak, can be found here: http://bit.ly/2rklXMz.