Across wide swaths of our nation, Americans benefit from advances in technology. From Doppler radar, which provides earlier, better warnings of dangerous weather conditions; to GPS technology that underpins everything from the daily convenience of directional guidance to life-saving advances in disaster response; to medical procedures – CAT scans, MRIs, laser surgery and more – that mean less invasive, more successful cancer treatments leading to better survival rates, they all share a common foundation: They are based to a significant degree on our government's investment in research.
Much of modern agriculture's astonishing productivity is also a product of government-backed agricultural research - research that has helped farmers increase soybean yields 2.6-fold and corn yields five-fold since 1940 while reducing energy use and acres tilled.
As a result, one American farmer now feeds 155 people, as opposed to the 19 people each famer fed in 1940. Farmers, ranchers and the American consumer have benefited tremendously from these federal investments in basic and applied research that has resulted in more than $300 billion in annual production and some $100 billion in exports, benefiting all along the supply chain, from farmer to manufacturer to distributor to retailer to consumer.
Government-funded research can help solve another of our greatest problems - our dependence on limited and declining supplies of fossil fuels - with cleaner, renewable energy sources. And by making the investment that will help accelerate biofuels, solar power, wind energy, hydropower and geothermal energy, federal programs help diversify farm income by creating new revenue streams, while boosting the American economy, particularly in hard-hit rural areas.
America's farms and forests, which already represent one of the great success stories of our civilization, could be the "ace in the hole" energy card for our country and our world. Research now under way will help us capture more clean energy from the land, first through plant photosynthesis and the production of bioenergy feedstocks, then through the increasingly efficient conversion of crop wastes and other forms of biomass into transportation fuels.
But as Congress and the American public wrestle with federal budget deficits, poorly-conceived spending cuts could waste the time, effort, and money already invested in these research ventures and deny us their ultimate benefits.
With policy makers on the verge of making decisions that will affect us for decades, agricultural leaders should be advocating for sustaining government funding for both production agriculture and ag energy research. We must make sure our investment is focused on the basic and applied research needed to achieve goals such as sourcing 25 percent of our energy needs from renewable resources by 2025 and continuing to produce safe, abundant and affordable food, feed and fiber to meet a rapidly growing global population.
Gale Buchanan is a former Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and former Dean and Director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station.
For more news go to: www.agri-pulse.com