Senate lawmakers propose agricultural research foundation

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2012- Leaders of the Senate Committee on Agriculture proposed legislation to establish a foundation for agricultural research today. 

Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Chairwoman of the Committee, with co-sponsor Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., introduced the bill to establish a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in order to support and complement USDA's Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area.

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“American agriculture outperforms every other country in the world because decades of research have shown us how to be more efficient and innovative,” Stabenow said. “Creating this foundation will leverage private capital to spur new research ventures, creating jobs and growing the economy.”

The foundation would solicit private donations to enhance agricultural research for meeting exploding global demand. U.S. producers will have to double production in order to feed a global population expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. 

“I look forward to the committee's debate on the farm bill and the research title in particular,” Roberts said. “This legislation should be a part of those discussions.”

According to the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR), current funding for food and agricultural research is less than 2.5 percent of USDA's budget.

“Federal funding for food and agricultural research, extension and education has failed to keep pace with identified priority needs,” said National C-FAR Executive Director Tom Van Arsdall. “Federal investment in research and development at the USDA reportedly has declined by about one-fourth since FY 2003.”

Arsdall said establishing the FFAR will generate “new, leveraged sources of funding” for food and agricultural research.

“It will provide a structure for new public/private partnerships and investments that will further USDA's REE mission.” Arsdall said. “A FFAR can help provide leveraged funding for new concepts and ideas, research to address knowledge gaps, translational research, and emerging research needs.”

The foundation provides authority for the establishment of a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, which is a non-governmental entity. The following is an outline of some of the bill's provisions:

-Includes definitions for the following terms: Board, Department, Foundation and Secretary.

-Outlines the purpose of the Foundation which is to advance and support USDA agricultural research activities focusing on plant health, production and products; animal health, production and products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agricultural and food security; and agriculture systems and technology.

-Fosters new public/private partnerships within the agricultural research community - federal agencies, non-profit organizations, academia, corporations, individual donors, etc.

-Includes provisions to outline basic duties of the Foundation including, the organization and structure of the entity, the establishment and composition of the Board of Directors, the Ex-Officio Board Members, the role of the Executive Director, as well as governing procedures and policies.

-Requires the Foundation to provide annual audits of the financial condition, scope of activities, and accomplishments. Also includes accountability requirements for recipients of Foundation grants and additional good governance provisions.

-Invests matching mandatory funding to elevate and prioritize agricultural research. Mandatory funds may not be expended until an equal amount of non-Federal funds are secured by the Foundation.

Supporters of the bill in the agriculture community say the FFAR uses “innovative solutions” to increase funding and investments for research during the current budgetary constraints.   Those supporters are listed here.

Existing precedents for congressionally mandated foundations in other areas of the federal government include entities devoted to medical research, public health and safety and natural resource conservation. Some examples include: Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the National Forest Foundation.   


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