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Proposal would assure public funding for research and development

Under a new proposal, USDA would reorganize and lead in reinvigorating the uniquely American system of public funding for agricultural education, research and Extension.

Called CREATE-21, it would establish an orderly system for funding; add new funding; reorganize USDA’s research elements; and create the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture within USDA to guide and direct funds and programs.

Legislation (S. 1094) to carry out these things was introduced into the U.S. Senate in mid-April by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa.
CREATE-21 is the acronym for Creating Research, Extension and Teaching Excellence for the 21st Century, and it would change the Research Title in the 2007 U.S. Farm Bill.

With the continued erosion of federal funding over the last two decades, many farmers, educators and researchers wondered whether the United States would sustain its publicly funded agricultural research and development system, built over the last 150 years since the land-grant university system was set up in 1862.

Or would the country allow that system to fade away and let farming in the future develop like communications, energy, automotive and other industries, in a “privatized” form where government funding, guidance and organization is minimal?

The issues will be debated over the next few months as part of the discussion for the 2007 Farm Bill. CREATE-21 advocates are asking stakeholders to contact their members of Congress and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors or introduce it into the House of Representatives.

The proposal, put forth in April, would reframe the partnership between USDA and the university community, according to proponents.

CREATE-21 was developed by a committee within the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC). It combines its own recommendations with those made by USDA and the Danforth Task Force, which proposed creation of a National Institute of Food and Agriculture a year ago, similar to the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.
The full proposal is described on the CREATE-21 Web site, http://www.create-21.org
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Key provisions of CREATE-21 would:

– Create the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture within USDA. It would be an independent agency reporting to the secretary of agriculture and led by an eminent scientist/educator appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a six-year term. It would be guided by a National Stakeholder Advisory Council.

– Consolidate four existing USDA research-oriented units – the Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES); Economic Research Service (ERS); and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – into a single agency reporting directly to the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

– Provide enhanced “competitive grant” funding to support fundamental and applied research/Extension projects. That would about double funding by adding $1 billion per year, increasing the number of competitively awarded, peer-reviewed grants.

– Bolster university “capacity” funding at land-grant universities and also at the historically black (1890), tribal (1994), insular area and small 1862 land-grant universities and those universities that are members of the American Association of State Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources but are not land-grants. About half the students enrolled in college agriculture curricula are not at land-grant universities.

The NASULGC committee was jointly chaired by Jeffrey Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University; L. Washington Lyons, executive director of the Association of 1890 Extension Administrators at historically black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C.; and Robert Steele, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University.

In an interview, Armstrong said he hoped stakeholders would “get behind the idea we need to enhance our investment in agricultural research and development.”

USDA funding for food, agriculture and natural resources research grew at an average annual rate of 1.85 percent over the last 35 years, and in the last 15 years, USDA base funding for state Agricultural Experiment Stations dropped by $27 million, while base funding for the Cooperative Extension Service declined by $45 million.

Correlated with that decline is a reduced growth rate in agricultural productivity, he said. Agricultural productivity has been growing about 1 percent per year for the last decade, about half the rate of the 40 years previous. This correlation is not necessarily a cause and effect, he said, but many people are concerned reduced funding and reduced productivity may be linked.

“These added resources will enable us to develop and support programs that will help address the prodigious agricultural, food and environmental challenges facing the nation and the world,” Armstrong said.

“The introduction of this bill is an important first step in our legislative campaign to improve the structure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research, teaching and Extension programs and enhance funding for these critically important efforts,” said Ian L. Maw, vice president of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources for NASULGC.

Over the years, the U.S. built a structure of public funding for agriculture that “is an experiment that worked exceptionally well,” he said.

The Morrill Act in 1862 created the land-grant universities, taking public education to ordinary citizens. The Hatch Act in 1887 created the Agricultural Experiment Stations, bringing systemic science to farming. In 1913, the Smith-Lever Act created the Cooperative Extension Service to carry scientific knowledge to farmers on the land.

Maw said there are new issues for agricultural science to tackle, including food safety, energy from biofuels and health issues related to obesity.

In recent years, problems have arisen because of flagging USDA funding.

One is the growth of “earmarks,” by which members of Congress have interceded to provide special funding for special problems in their districts. This funding is tainted by its “pork barrel” quality, even when the problems are real and pressing.

Secondly, the decline in federal funding has put pressure on states. Michigan’s governor has proposed three times to eliminate all state funding for Extension as federal funding has waned.

“If we are going to continue to have the food system we have, we need restored funding,” said L. Washington Lyons, the North Carolina co-chair. “We need it to protect and sustain the kind of productive food system we’ve had.”

The CREATE-21 proposal is to build competitive funding so it will (after seven years) reach $2.1 billion per year, with fundamental research constituting 55 percent of the total and integrated programs the remaining 45 percent.

Capacity funding will (after seven years) reach $2.9 billion per year, enabling intramural USDA research and extramural programs at land-grant and related institutions to maintain and extend their base operations.

If CREATE-21 is enacted and fully funded, after seven years the competitive/capacity ratio – considering existing funds ($2.6 billion) and new funds ($2.6 billion) – would be 42/58. (Currently, the competitive/capacity ratio is approximately 10/90.)

To "jump start" the funding enhancement program, $200 million per year in mandatory USDA funding would flow immediately to the Institute from the statutory authority for the Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems program.

CREATE-21 incorporates all key elements of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, or Danforth, proposal, including creation of a National Institute providing (eventually) $1 billion per year in new funding for fundamental research in food, agriculture and natural resources through competitively awarded, peer-reviewed grants.


Originally posted Monday, May. 21, 2007

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