House Ag Committee stresses need to continue research
WASHINGTON — The Subcommittee on Conservation, Research and Biotechnology of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture on March 23 expressed optimism for youth agriculture development, a vaccine for African Swine Fever, and additional funding for new agricultural technology.
Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics, said that her mission is rooted in partnerships.
She oversee the department’s Agricultural Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Office of the Chief Scientist.
While she repeatedly pointed out that many of the agencies with which she partners typically work with budgets far higher than hers, she said, “The U.S. has a long track record of making investments in research that pays off for farmers and the country.” She reported that between 1948 and 2019, U.S. agricultural output grew 175 percent.
Interestingly, both agricultural land and labor inputs declined over that period.
She attributed the growth increase to the adoption of publicly-funded innovations in crop and livestock breeding, nutrient use, and farm and field management. The dividends have been substantial.
ERS found that from 1900 to 2011, public agricultural research and development investments generated $20 in benefits to the economy for every $1 spent.
Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) echoed that progress. In his opening he said, “Through advances in science, technology, and innovation, American producers have increased outputs nearly three-fold since the 1940s, with little to no change in inputs.” He also credited the research, extension, and education of the land-grant universities, and added that they rely on the research authorized in the Research Title of the Farm Bill.
Turning to the future, Thompson and Jacobs-Young quickly agreed on the critical need to develop the next generation of agriculturists.
While discussing UDSA’s projects, Jacobs-Young described the real-world challenge of devising a strategy with too few college graduates grounded in science.
Thompson asked how youth programs like FFA could provide workable solutions in developing the next generation of agriculturists.
Jacobs-Young noted that important system components are in their pipeline.
One example is the partnering with a high school in the South side of Chicago with students obviously enjoying learning about crops, animals, and a farmers’ market. Plus, her scientists work hand-in-hand with them. She enthused, “We made sure we make the kids aware of the interesting things that agriculture holds. It’s high-tech.”
Thompson remarked, “I share your passion for that. I appreciate that.” He continued, “We worked hard in the 2018 Farm Bill to create a youth coordinator in USDA. It is my understanding that this position is currently vacant.” He told Jacobs-Young that he hoped she would fill the youth coordinator position again. She explained it predated her appointment but exclaimed, “I will be wonderfully happy to follow up with you on that.”
In his opening, the Subcommittee on Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology Chair, Representative Jim Baird (R-Ind.), pointed out that several research programs have not yet been implemented.
Despite the recognized benefits of agricultural research, he said public spending has declined since its 2002 peak. Further, our competitors — China, India and Brazil — have rapidly increased spending.
Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Representative Abigail D. Spanberger (D-Va.,) expressed concerns over the lack of research funding. In particular, she cited that the plan for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority pilot authorized in the 2028 Farm Bill was just released, but without sufficient funds to even establish the program in USDA.
Spanberger questioned Jacobs-Young regarding possible extraordinary developments and innovation which a well-funded mission could accomplish. Jacobs-Young responded that her most innovative scientists in ARS work around the fringes to find opportunities and new different ways to look at research. She explained that the innovative research is high return but also high risk. With funding, she added, “It would give us the space to take risks and still be responsible to the stakeholders who depend on the work that we do every day.”
Spanberger pointed to the two land grant universities in her home state as researchers who are spurring innovation. “Virginia Tech and Virginia State University collaborate with USDA to complete cutting-edge research,” she noted and added, “For example, brilliant staff and students at VSU’s agriculture research center have focused on new ways soil science can contribute to the fight against climate change.”
In her testimony, Jacobs-Young related ARS’s better health initiatives, including animal disease research. Baird asked her, “Has ARS made any progress on vaccine development for African Swine Fever?” She replied, “Yes. It is highly contagious and deadly, and ARS is hard at work on it. Four vaccines have in been licensed with fourteen companies. With Vietnam, two are now commercially produced, are working well, and great progress and efficacy are seen. ARS is also working with land grant universities. While the vaccine is not yet available in the U.S., but Jacobs-Young summed the research, “We have made significant progress.”
Finally, Baird concluded, “We can’t ignore investment of ag research here, during Ag Week.”