The challenges facing the food and agriculture system require a “top to bottom review” of how research dollars are being spent, according to a consensus document issued by AGree, an organization that represents a broad cross-section of people and organizations involved in the food and agriculture industry.
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Issued in late June, “Research & Innovation: Strengthening Agricultural Research” says that decreasing public investment in agricultural research is coinciding with emerging food and agriculture problems across the globe, from dwindling water supplies to pests and diseases of crops and animals. “Money going into agriculture research is going down, not up, and in some cases we have an extensive amount of duplicative research,” Dan Glickman, AGree co-chair and former secretary of the USDA, said at a press briefing about the report.
Nine recommendations, based on meetings with more than100 people across the country over a two-year period, are included in the report, and all are aimed at increasing the impact of public investment in food and agricultural research. The recommendations include integrating research, education, and extension activities to foster coordination within universities, strengthening the role of the USDA chief scientist to ensure that the U.S. continues to serve as a global leader on food and agricultural research and innovation, and targeting public research funding to areas unlikely to be addressed by private industry.
AGree also says that federal funding mechanisms for public research, education, and extension should undergo scrutiny and modernization to increase innovation and “maximize public benefits.” Public research funding should be targeted to areas unlikely to be addressed by private industry, the group recommends.
Todd Barker, senior partner at Meridian Institute says that the most important proposal within the document is one recommending more Congressional oversight of agricultural research. “Public hearings would help Congress legislate and appropriate according to need and programmatic effectiveness, as well as generate Congressional interest in and support for many of the potential reforms present in the AGree consensus document.
“This increased Congressional oversight along with our recommendation to review and reset publicly-funded research priorities periodically to ensure that funds are directed toward the most relevant and high-impact areas are fundamental in meeting the challenges facing the global food and agriculture system,” Barker says.
Jim Moseley, AGree co-chair and a former USDA deputy secretary, agrees. “Congress plays a huge role in oversight and funding of the system…and has the responsibility for the foundation of research. Therefore it seems prudent that they take a top to bottom look at our system, considering both the overall funding mechanism, the amount, as well as how efficient the system really is.”