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Expert pushes for public-private research investment in U.S. farm bill

By David Schwartz
Published: July 10th, 2018

In an opinion piece published in politics publication The Hill, Caroline Kitchens, federal affairs manager for the R Street Institute, makes an impassioned plea for retaining a public-private research program to win reauthorization in the 2018 “farm bill” now being debated in the U.S. Congress.

Reauthorized every five years and due to expire in September, the farm bill is a massive piece of legislation that authorizes supplies funding for all federal food and farm-support programs. Kitchens notes that it is far from clear that, in its travels through conference committee, it will retain current funding for research and development programs and private-public partnerships.

She cites as “a shining example of smart investment in agricultural research and development” the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). Authorized in the last farm bill, FFAR creates partnerships with private entities and universities for research projects on issues such as food safety, renewable energy, and agricultural technology. “By law,” Kitchens points out, “FFAR is required to match every dollar it receives in public funds with private investment. This means better returns for taxpayers, whose initial $200 million investment in FFAR has delivered more than $400 million in programming.”

In addition, she maintains, the program’s public-private model “helps to bring millions of dollars of untapped private capital off the sidelines and into important projects that benefit not only farmers, but consumers and the economy as a whole.” Citing studies showing that $10 of economic benefit is returned for every dollar spent on agricultural research, Kitchens notes the “huge potential for private investment in agricultural research.” However, she adds, realizing those benefits “will require smart policy and strategic investment,” including a farm bill that continues to support agricultural R&D. 

At this point, however, the Senate version of the bill retains FFAR, while the House version discontinues its funding.

Kitchens also notes that past farm bills have admittedly been filled with wasteful provisions. She cites as examples the current House bill’s subsidies for sheep farmers and “new loopholes that allow distant family members who don’t even live or work on a farm to collect up to $125,000 each in commodity subsidies.” FFAR and other research and development programs are far better investments in American agriculture, she argues.

“The United States should be the leader in agricultural technology, but China now surpasses us in investment by more than twofold. Our farmers are plagued by a badly outdated subsidy system that distorts markets, as well as chronic underinvestment in agricultural research and development. The time has come to modernize our farm programs and enhance investment in the types of research that will make our farm economy the most competitive and innovative in the world. Reauthorizing FFAR is an important first step,” she concludes.

Source: The Hill

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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