Vilsack touts role of land grants at 150th anniversary celebration
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WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized land-grant institutions' contribution to the success of American agriculture and said that land-grant partnerships with USDA and the private sector “have the capability to add new dimension to American economy” in the bio-based field.
Vilsack made the comments during the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) celebration of 150 Years of the Morrill Act, legislation named for Vermont Senator Justin Morrill that, in 1862, provided each state with 30,000 acres of public land for each representative and senator. The sale of the land created a fund to pay for colleges providing education particularly in agriculture and science, as well as other fields.
“In order for this to continue, we have to have concentrated efforts on agricultural research,” Vilsack said.
“We need to know there is continued commitment on the part of Congress” to pass the farm bill, Vilsack said, noting that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor “hit the pause button. I suggested they release the pause button and allow the bill to go through so we don't hit the panic button.”
One reason completing the House version of the Senate-passed Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Bill of 2012 is so important, he said, is the uncertainty that would result from a delay. Vilsack also noted that “there is a strong commitment to research” in the Senate bill.
The bill would create the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) “to foster new public-private partnerships among the agricultural research community, including USDA research agencies, academia, private corporations, and non-profit organizations.”
The National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (C-FAR) indicates that USDA's agricultural research budget is approximately $3 billion, which totals less than 10% percent of USDA's total budget.
“Significant reductions to USDA's research budget will threaten American producers' ability to increase farm productivity and meet the challenges of feeding a growing world,” according to National C-FAR.
“The problem with agriculture research is that we haven't marketed it very well; we haven't marketed it to be as important as health research,” Vilsack explained, emphasizing the national security value of safe and abundant food, or the ability of a nation to feed itself.
Largely because of the land-grant university system, “we have become a nation that is essentially self-sufficient when it comes to food,” Vilsack said. “That's an enormous national security advantage.”
However, when it comes to funding he said “we're not going to get investment unless you market this more effectively,” citing the National Science Foundation's and the National Institute of Health's efforts to market the results of their research as examples of successful marketing.
“If it weren't for the World Food Prize, a lot of people in this country wouldn't have any idea about agricultural research.”
“One of primary arguments I make is return on investment. For every dollar in ag research, you get 20 dollars back into the economy,” he said.
Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University and World Food Prize winner, Gebisa Ejeta, said during the celebration that the Morrill Act's model “has delivered on its promise” and its legacy continues. Ejeta also emphasized the need for agricultural research investment, especially with the pending world population of nine billion in 2050.
“Of significant concern is the softening of public-private research,” Ejeta said. “We need to continually acknowledge that there are many more agricultural and research concerns that must be addressed.” He said while private research is extremely successful, the public sector “has a responsibility to invest in the generation of knowledge that is critical in sustaining and generating fundamental knowledge that may well catalyze further private sector investments.”
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