Presidential council recommends more ag research funding

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2012- A report from the Presidential Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) released Friday concluded that the federal government needs to increase agricultural research investments by $700 million per year and adjust USDA's research portfolio so that external funding is increased.

In response to the announcement, American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation President James H. Hodges said, “We are gratified that PCAST has recognized the essential nature of agriculture science and technology investments.  If we are to stay competitive and meet future challenges, we simply must follow through on PCAST's recommendation to increase research funding.”

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The PCAST conclusions, explained during a briefing that included USDA Under Secretary Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Catherine Woteki, recommended that Congress appropriate the previously authorized funding for USDA's competitive grants program, aimed at researchers outside the government. The majority of USDA's search and development budget is directed internally (60 percent) while most other science based federal agencies devote less than 30 percent of their budgets intramurally. 

PCAST outlined “two major shortcomings in the current U.S. agricultural research enterprise that place the Nation at risk.” The first the low proportion of Federal funding for agricultural research allocated through competitive grants. The second is an overlap with private-sector activities. The authors said overlapping agricultural research too much with the private sector  is a “situation that calls out for a rebalancing of the research portfolio in favor of greater Federal attention to basic, non-commercial research for the public good and workforce development”

“PCAST recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rebalance its in-house (“intramural”) research budget away from its current focus on commodities such as corn, soy, rice, wheat, and cotton, which today account for fully 36 percent of the USDA intramural research budget,” according to the announcement. “The private sector is already motivated to invest in improvements in these crops, according to the report, and USDA should aim more of its resources at targets that offer fewer immediate benefits to the private sector.”

The recommended investment in agricultural research of $700 million per year includes an increase in the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget for basic science relevant to agriculture to $250 million per year from the current $120 million and an increase in USDA's budget for competitive funding of extramural research to $500 million per year from the current $265 million.

The full report can be viewed here.


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