USDA to fund $30 million worth of ag research

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2016 - USDA announced Wednesday it will grant $30.1 million to food safety and plant health research that the department says is essential to bolstering America's farm economy and attracting new farmers to the sector.

Speaking to members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the return on investment for ag research was significant - about $35 for every dollar spent - and the research itself was critical to getting more young people to join and expand the agriculture sector.

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“We also need to make sure that we're filling that pipeline with researchers and scientists that can help our young producers be more productive in the future,” Vilsack said. “This is not a static, stayed way of life. This is a dynamic opportunity, and one that should be attracting more and more young people.”

John Holdren, who serves as President Barack Obama's science and technology advisor as well as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, joined Vilsack in announcing the food and plant safety research funding. In a release, Holdren said advances in science and technology “are essential to meeting virtually every challenge our nation faces.”

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"Further strengthening our investments in agricultural research will be essential for U.S. farmers to be able to keep the nation's food supply abundant, healthy, reliable, and sustainable through the 21st century,” he said.

Half of the funding announced Wednesday will go toward food safety projects, and the other half will go to universities, laboratories, and research organizations for plant health and protection studies. The funding is being awarded through USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Beside the $30.1 million announcement, Filsack and Holdren also announced that Obama's 2017 budget will call for an investment of $700 million in AFRI, the full amount called for by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. Vilsack told NASDA members that the country still needs increased funding for ag research.

“There are many challenges that we have to focus on, and we need resources to do this,” Vilsack said.

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