Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

Over the last year, America’s food and agricultural sectors have faced robust challenges. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for a more resilient food system, which is why I’m calling for an investment of at least $40 billion for agricultural research and infrastructure, as well as agricultural innovation.

The U.S. is a world leader in agricultural production, but we need to continue to invest in research and infrastructure to both remain competitive with our friends and neighbors around the world, and to meet challenges to global food security. Last month, top economists reported at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual Agricultural Symposium that while the United States’ share of global agricultural R&D investment was 20% in 1960, it declined to 8.9% in 2015. This issue was only exacerbated by the global pandemic, which challenged our agricultural supply chains and magnified the need to expand our agricultural research. We are currently falling behind our peers, but with smart investments we can regain our footing as the leader in global agriculture.

The U.S. cannot reestablish our agricultural research prominence, however, when our research facilities are aging and in dire need of revitalization. Unlike our global partners and competitors, much of the agriculture research in the U.S. is being done in facilities that were built in the 1950s or 1960s. According to a recent report, 69% of the buildings at U.S. colleges and schools of agriculture are at the end of their useful life. We are asking an era of students to lead cutting edge research that will feed generations well into the future in facilities that were built for their grandparents.

Our land-grant university system fosters excellence in research innovation while providing training opportunities for the global leaders of the future. We know from research by leading economists that U.S. public food and agriculture R&D spending from 1910 to 2007 returned, on average, $17 in benefits for every $1 invested. Our nation’s Cooperative Extension System keeps farmers in business and transfers important agricultural and food information to people, farmers, businesses and communities. Land-grant universities aren’t just pillars of their communities – they’re pillars of our entire country’s agricultural and research systems. As the new infrastructure proposal is developed, we need to keep federal agricultural research infrastructure, research, and extension delivery of agricultural innovation as part of the package. Now is the time to invest in these land-grant universities – our incubators for talent, outreach, and agricultural innovation.

Key investments in these agricultural institutions will support American jobs, develop climate-smart practices for farmers and ranchers across the country and world, increase global food security, and help ensure that the agricultural sciences pipeline looks like all of America, not just one region or group.

Right now, we are presented with an opportunity to think critically about what tools we want our agricultural researchers and students to have going into the next decades, and I believe that with this bold research investment, we can make strides to reposition the U.S. as the world agricultural leader well into this century.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett represents the at large district of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the United States House of Representatives. She is an African-Caribbean attorney who has practiced law in New York, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Plaskett is best known for her understanding of economic development and public-private partnerships for growing the economy of developing areas. She is an active community advocate in the Virgin Islands.

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