Funding for ag research plays a vital role in 2050 challenge

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Investments in agricultural research has a high return on investment and is necessary for a solution to feeding a growing world population on limited resources, so why is Farm Bill funding for R&D shrinking?

Julian Alston, agricultural and resource economics professor at the University of California-Davis, spoke about the challenge to provide safe, affordable food for a world population expected to reach 8.9 billion by 2050 during the 2013 Congressional Assistants Tour, hosted by K-State Research and Extension Aug. 29-30.

While the growing population expectation is a primary concern for producers, Alston raised additional concerns of competing demands for land and water, competing demands with biofuels, a changing climate, and co-evolving pests and diseases.

The good news is history shows agricultural research has a high success rate in finding solutions, but the funding must be available.

Looking from a national standpoint, Alston says the U.S. is decreasing agricultural research funding while China, Brazil, India and other countries are producing more food, more efficiently. If this trend continues, the U.S. could become an importer of food, dependant on other countries.

A recent version of the Farm Bill only budgets $3 billion for agricultural research out of the $150 billion total budget. Based on findings from a book co-authored by Alsont in 2010, every dollar invested in U.S. agricultural research yields a return of about $33.  

“That’s a fantastically good investment,” Alston said. “There’s nothing I know that is as good an investment as that. It’s not just a monetary payoff, but in addition to that, it’s an investment in preserving resources. It’s assuring food security of the world. It’s assuring competitiveness of American farmers in a world where other countries are trying very hard to do better than we are.”

Alston says more people need to lobby for additional funding in agricultural research for the U.S. to remain competitive. Funding is shrinking because the investment payoff takes over two decades. Still, Alston is rallying for funding in the Farm Bill to double to $6 billion in addition to private research.

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