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How stagnant public funding for ag research threatens food systems

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Stagnant public funding for agricultural research is threatening the future vitality of U.S. food systems — posing risks to farmer productivity and profitability, the steady supply of affordable food for consumers, and ultimately global food security, according to a new report.

The report, authored by the IHS Markit Agribusiness Consulting Group, highlights the vital importance of public funding for agricultural research and development (R&D). New innovations are crucial so that farmers can increase their productivity and meet rising global demand for food, even as climate change intensifies. The world population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, and food production will need to increase by 60 percent to 70 percent to meet rising demand. While private-sector funding for agricultural R&D has been increasing, U.S. public spending has been flat for the past decade.

“The U.S. has always been a leader in agricultural innovation, but we’re at risk of losing that advantage by falling behind the rest of the world in research and development,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “This report shows the clear need for agricultural research to benefit not only farmers, but our entire food system and every person who eats. Research will unlock the answers to growing more crops even as we face increasingly volatile weather, help to create a more resilient food system supply chain, and provide food that’s higher in nutritional value. It’s the golden ticket.”  

Public investment is crucial, as private companies have less incentive to research subjects that benefit society broadly but offer potentially lower monetary returns, such as in the areas of environmental, animal health, specialty crop, and food safety research. Private companies primarily focus research spending on only a few major crop and livestock markets, leaving other sectors under-explored.

Other countries are seeing the value of investing in agricultural research, putting the U.S. at risk of losing its competitive advantage in agricultural production and exports. China became the world’s largest public funder of agricultural R&D in 2009, and India and Brazil are also making significant investments.

It can take years to develop and bring new technologies to market, so research funded today must seek to anticipate and solve the problems of tomorrow. In order to make agricultural and food supply chains more resilient, increased research funding is needed across the board. This paper focuses on the key areas of crop breeding, crop protection, animal health, animal disease and foodborne illness, climate change, and global pandemics as case studies.

Read the full report here.

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