The very core of land grant university funding research is at risk, particularly long-range research projects, due to possible federal and state funding cutbacks. As a result, the future of U.S. competitiveness is in jeopardy, and already, agricultural productivity has begun to slide, speakers said at an April 12 presentation at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club.
At the same time the U.S, and other developed nations have been trimming university research budgets, Brazil and China has been increasing their research budgets. “This is a little bit disturbing,” said George Norton of Virginia Tech, at the event sponsored by the Farm Foundation Forum. In the current environment, he predicted that extension and teaching funds would shrink.
This comes at a time, the economist noted, when agriculture faces enormous issues, such as more price volatility, biofuels taking 40% of the U.S. corn crop, the world population growing from 7 to 9 billion people and world food needs doubling. Moreover, food can be linked to national security, and land grant research plays a pivotal position role in solving environmental issues, such as making it possible to pull fragile lands out of production. While farmers and industry have benefited from ag research through basic and applied research, consumers have benefited through lower food prices.
Numerous studies have concluded that the return on investment from agricultural research is somewhere in the range of 20% to 80%. “There is a $32 bang-for-the-buck for each dollar spent on agricultural research,” Norton said.
Looking at seed companies for instance, it’s important to have both public and private research, Norton said. Public research can be more basic in nature and long-term, while companies can invest in more proprietary research that tends to be more applied. “The build off each other,” he added. “It’s a complementary system of public and private.”
Some challenges to land grant universities are good, however, said Nicole Ballenger, associate vice president of academic affairs at the University of Wyoming. “We need to be accountable to excellence,” she said. Furthermore, “each college doesn’t need to do what every other college does,” she stated in her presentation.
One of the challenges agriculture has is image. “In California, people have a negative view of agriculture, but a positive view of farmers,” said Daniel Dooley, senior vice president, external affairs of the University of California. “Go figure.”
He added, “We’re not getting the message out to the public, only to our basic stakeholders.” In Dooley’s view, the key to solving agriculture’s communication’s problem lies in linking it to improving health, and food safety. There is still people talking like it are farming in the 1960’s, he continued.
Furthermore, Dooley said, the land grant system faces organizational challenges, such as the need for more interdisciplinary efforts. But farmers don’t care. “Our stakeholders don’t care how we’re organized. They want problems solved.”
In discussing the need for additional food to be produced in the years ahead, he asked, “Has our mission changed? I’m not sure our organization has caught up with that.”
Dooley calls for a new agriculture and food security act that would get Prime Ministers talking with Presidents about food and agriculture.
Dooley also is critical of land grant colleges and universities for competing for federal dollars that are unlikely to be there. He admonished ag researchers to take a lesson from the health industry. Rather than competing against each other for scarce federal dollars like agriculture does, health researchers agree in their attempt to secure a total budget from the National Institutes of Health (HIH), then, once secured, they fight it out. “They are successful.” In Dooley’s view, ag researchers and institutions should do the same.