The Future of Ag Research & the Farm Bill
A message from Julie McClure, PhD, Vice President, Torrey Advisory Group
The Research Title (Title VII) has historically been a source of bipartisan collaboration within the farm bill with research and innovation enjoying broad support from both sides of the aisle. Lately, it seems like not even a week goes by without an op-ed or article highlighting the need for investment in research across the food and ag systems. Chairman Thompson himself has reiterated over and over that the farm bill should be based on “science, technology and innovation.” But what will that actually look like come next farm bill? Where will those investments come from, and exactly which programs will receive them is still largely unknown.
Ag Resiliency Relies on Research
Over the past 20 years, U.S. public funding for ag research has declined by a third, while other nations such as China, Brazil and India, have committed significant investments to public ag research. At the same time, our food and agriculture system is becoming increasingly vulnerable to known and emerging threats including climate change, conflict-induced supply chain disruptions, rising input costs, and pests and diseases. Our food and ag enterprise needs greater resilience to allow producers, processors, companies, and communities to better weather these shocks. Food and agricultural research is the key to developing that resilience.
Research Road Ahead – Possible Speed Bumps
The farm bill represents the greatest opportunity to enact significant changes to our public ag research enterprise. There is a strong desire from the research community for a significant investment of mandatory funding in the research title, specifically for research, extension, education, and infrastructure. But even with broad Congressional support, any additional mandatory funding will be a significant challenge, especially with the current debt ceiling issue looming over us.
Another issue in the research title are the three “orphan” programs that do not have a budget baseline for funding beyond this fiscal year. What that would mean, if there is a farm bill extension, none of these programs would receive any funding under the extension. The largest of these is the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). FFAR was established under in the 2014 Farm Bill to develop public-private partnerships that support innovative food and agriculture research. While there is a desire to make FFAR a permanent farm bill program, adding baseline funding to the farm bill will be a heavy lift.
Finally, we have noted before that climate could be a major theme in the next farm bill. The research title is no exception to that idea, with many climate and environmental groups seeing the farm bill as the only legislative opportunity during this Congress to advance climate goals. Just how explicit a role climate change will play in the research title and if any of the funding for climate and conservation that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will be at play, are two of the main questions moving forward.
Marker Bills Provide Insight
While we don’t have an exact picture of what this next research title will look like in the upcoming farm bill, we do know there will be support from both sides of the aisle. A key indicator – outside of Chairman Thompson’s remarks – has been the introduction of research-focused marker bills, including the Advancing Cutting Edge (ACE) Agriculture Act (more on other notable marker bills can be found in the Stakeholder Guide below).
About the Author: Julie has over a decade of experience in advocacy with industry and professional scientific societies. During the 2018 Farm Bill, Julie worked to develop the Agronomy, Crop, and Soil Science Societies’ farm bill priorities and successfully advocated for the creation of two new research programs within USDA. Julie received her doctorate in cell biology from the University of Virginia and her Bachelor of Science in biology from Florida State University.
Farm & Food Stakeholder’s Guide to Washington DC
Farm Bill Research Edition
In our latest edition of the Farm & Food Stakeholder’s Guide we provide an overview of what Team Torrey is keeping an eye on with ag research and a guide to the new 118th Ag Committees.
Team Torrey Updates
Torrey Advisory Group welcomes Olivia Lucanie as our newest policy team member in the position of Policy Manager. Olivia comes to the team with state and federal experience working on issues areas primarily in the food, agriculture, nutrition and workforce spaces. Prior to joining Team Torrey, Olivia was at Prism Group and interned for Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman. Olivia has a bachelor’s degree in public health with a minor in economics from The George Washington University.
Team Torrey is also celebrating the recent promotions of two outstanding members. Congratulations!
Julie McClure – Vice President