WASHINGTON, June 15, 2017 – Some of the biggest names in agricultural research defended the importance of government science funding at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing today where lawmakers expressed resistance to proposed spending cuts from the White House.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., expressed outrage at proposed cuts in the fiscal year 2018 budget for agricultural research. The proposed shuttering of 17 Agricultural Research Service field stations, including one in Colorado, is “utterly unacceptable,” Bennet said
ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young explained to Bennet and other senators that the decision to propose closing the field stations was difficult, but necessary to meet the Trump administration’s call to cut spending for the agency.
“It’s a war on agriculture,” Bennet said.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., expressed similar outrage and pledged to fight proposed spending cuts, not just on agricultural research, but also on crop insurance and other farm spending.
“Thank you very much for reading the speech I wrote,” Roberts said to Bennet in a moment of levity during the hearing. “Some of the adjectives were a little out of line … “
As to the proposed funding cudts for research and crop-insurance, Roberts said: “It’s simply not going to happen.”
The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal seeks to cut crop insurance by $29 billion over 10 years.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture Director Sonny Ramaswamy, who also testified at the hearing, told Agri-Pulse he was reassured by the senators’ concern over research funding.
“I think everybody recognizes that our innovation engine needs to continue to be supported,” he said on the sidelines of the hearing.
USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue, who testifying Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, also said he did not support the proposed cuts for agricultural research.
“I would admit to you that research is one of those areas where we may have missed the mark and I believe that we can work toward right-sizing the budget,” Perdue said. “Research is the basis of our agricultural productivity today.”
Another witness who left today's hearing feeling optimistic was Sally Rockey, the executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).
The Foundation, which matches government funds to private investment for research, was created in the 2014 farm bill and given $200 million in mandatory funds by Congress, money that does not automatically replenish when the funds run out.
“What’s important to us is to be reauthorized and see ourselves funded again in the next farm bill,” she told Agri-Pulse.
Rockey said FFAR is in talks with lawmakers, explaining what the organization could do with increased funding, but stressed that “we also recognize that there are very serious budget restraints.”