Report suggests need for more ag research funding

A report released this week by the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation argues that the lack of federal funding for agricultural research in the U.S. has led to China’s massively higher production totals.

According to the report, titled “Retaking the Field,” federal research funding for agriculture in the U.S. has risen just 1 percent since 2003, which has been trumped by China’s funding. While the U.S. used to out-produce China in the 1960s and ’70s, China is now producing roughly 2.5 times as much from its farms as the U.S.

Despite the production and funding malaise, however, the authors highlight in the report several universities conducting cutting-edge research and share some of the implications of their work, and said with more funding they could do even more.

“It is time once again to grow more solutions on our own soil,” the report reads. “It is time to retake the field.”

The universities featured in the report are Iowa State University, University of Florida, Kansas State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Cornell University, Washington University in St. Louis, Tuskegee University, North Carolina State University, University of California, Davis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Purdue University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The research is broken down into four categories: production, human health, food safety and knowledge transfer.

For instance, in the production category, researchers at Kansas State University looked into the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that killed 1.4 million piglets in the fall of 2013. They toyed with variables in pig feed methods until they discovered heating the food, along with other steps, can save the pigs.

When it comes to agriculture research’s effect on human health, Cornell University worked to improve marketing strategies to encourage healthy eating among teens. They found by manipulating the placement of healthy foods like apples and white milk in cafeteria lines, they could drastically alter consumption trends.

As far as food safety goes, researchers at UC Davis in California composed a system of DNA sequencing of food, similar to bar code scanning, that can be used when a foodborne illness occurs to rapidly determine the exact strain and source of an outbreak.

Lastly, some researchers worked instead on the diffusion of information. A faculty member at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln put together a list of best practices to save water while irrigating. He then built a network of Nebraska farmers to adopt the practices and together they saved 1.8 million acre-feet of water over 10 years.

“The problems facing farmers, consumers, and everyone in the food supply chain, are reaching critical mass,” the report reads. “But out country’s researchers are ready to solve these problems if provided the resources they need.”