The 2014 Farm Bill created the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to encourage public/private partnerships focused on cutting edge agricultural research and provided it with initial funding of $200 million. At Noble Research Institute, we are particularly pleased that the Senate Ag Committee has recognized the value of public and private research organizations working together by reauthorizing funding for FFAR in its 2018 Farm Bill. 

Producing food and fiber is critical to our Nation—indeed, U.S. agricultural production is essential for a world headed toward a population of 9 billion by 2050. As an independent, nonprofit foundation, FFAR has done a good job of leveraging public investment in agricultural research by working with private foundations, such as Noble. These partnerships, based on vital agricultural research projects, match public funds dollar for dollar with private philanthropy, doubling the taxpayers’ investment.  The more public-private entities partner, the more we can achieve.  These relationships build capacity, amplify research and provide answers to agriculture’s most pressing problems. All of which, positively impacts both producers and the consumers who depend on them.

The Foundation deserves renewed support in the farm bill. The Senate bill provides it, but the House bill does not.

Let me put the importance of FFAR funding into context. Research universities have long sought and received donations, particularly from their alumni. Some of these funds have gravitated directly or indirectly to agricultural research.  Congress recently granted authority to create entities for donors to more directly support agricultural research.  This new type of charitable entity—the agricultural research organization (ARO)—was officially established under the Internal Revenue Code in December 2015. Similar to medical research organizations, AROs, which include nonprofits such as Noble Research Institute, take tax-deductible gifts they receive for agricultural research to fund important research projects.

AROs provide a new vehicle for donors to make significant gifts toward agricultural research that will help producers increase yields, reduce environmental impacts and preserve resources. As authorized by Congress, FFAR can partner with AROs to fund collaborative research activities addressing problems of national and international importance. This approach enables the agricultural community to benefit from previously untapped private resources.

I believe FFAR began moving in the right direction by pinpointing seven broad “challenge areas” for research, including reducing food waste and loss, improving sustainability, increasing protein production, addressing water scarcity, building healthy soils and farms, addressing urban food issues and increasing production and accessibility of fruits and vegetables. These are areas of concern to both producers and consumers, and the initial research projects funded through FFAR are definitely on target.

Of course, it’s too soon to see the results of these first research projects. But the work begun thus far is very encouraging. This suggests the foundation has approached its charge in a way that holds true to both the spirit and the letter of the 2014 Farm Bill. That’s good news, and the Senate Ag Committee has responded accordingly.

The $200 million funding in the Senate 2018 Farm Bill appropriately recognizes the success of the public/private approach to leverage public spending on agricultural research for the benefit of taxpayers, the agricultural research community and U.S. producers. However, that bill must be reconciled with the House version, which omits funding for FFAR. Everyone involved in agriculture needs to let Congress know that reauthorizing FFAR should be a high priority in the 2018 Farm Bill.  

About the author: Bill Buckner is the CEO of the Noble Research Institute, an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges.