American Soybean Association (ASA) Chairman Richard Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Del., testified Thursday on the significant role that public-sector research plays in continuing the stream of technological innovations that drive the agriculture industry. Wilkins testified in his capacity as vice president of the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (NCFAR) before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research.
In his testimony, Wilkins spoke to the user-driven nature of the public-sector research industry, and how stakeholders from all points in the farm-to-consumer supply chain benefit from robust agricultural research.
“Tools provided through publicly funded research, extension and education are needed to help achieve safer, more nutritious, convenient and affordable foods delivered to sustain a well-nourished, healthy population; more efficient and environmentally friendly food, fiber and forest production; improved water quality, land conservation, wildlife and other environmental conditions; less dependence on non-renewable sources of energy; expanded global markets and improved balance of trade; and more jobs and sustainable rural economic development,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins advocated continued funding and support for the intermural and extramural research functions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To accomplish these funding goals, Wilkins noted the active role that NCFAR as a customer-led coalition plans on the research title of the 2018 Farm Bill. “The research title of the farm bill represents the nation’s signature federal investment in the future of the food and agricultural sector,” said Wilkins. “In fact, the success of every other title in the farm bill and those who are charged with carrying out their respective missions is arguably dependent in significant part on scientific outcomes and tools generated by programs authorized through the research title, and then funded by Congress.”
Wilkins testified to the danger that the current lack of attention to the public research system presents in terms of missed opportunity for innovation.
“We as a nation are not investing enough in in publicly funded research to permit discovery necessary to regain and then maintain our nation’s place as the leader in agricultural research,” Wilkins said. “Federal funding for food and agricultural research, extension and education has been essentially flat for over 20 years despite much greater demonstrated needs, and has reportedly declined by about 25 percent in real terms since 2003. At the same time support for other federal research has increased substantially. Our nation’s competitiveness in global markets is at risk, as investments in food and agricultural science by our global competitors have been growing rapidly. “