A total of 35 wheat industry visitors are in Washington, D.C., for an annual fly-in focusing on wheat research.
Bob Wisness is one of the wheat farmers who contributed to last year’s 205.8 million bu harvest in North Dakota, making it the nation’s second largest wheat producing state. But Wisness says North Dakota wouldn’t have the production prowess it enjoys today were it not for publicly funded research such as the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.
"The scab initiative has allowed spring wheat and barley to be produced in amounts in North Dakota that are similar to our historic levels of production," he says. "It kept wheat viable in the eastern half of the state. Without that research and the progress of the scab initiative, wheat would be irrelevant in much of North Dakota."
Wisness was one of 35 wheat industry representatives who gathered in Washington, D.C., this week to tell Congress there is no more to cut from federal funding for agriculture research. The trip was sponsored by the National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC), which is comprised of a group of wheat scientists and stakeholders, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the North American Millers’ Association and the American Bakers Association.
Fly-in participants are specifically asking Congress to support the Obama Administration’s requests for $1.103 billion in funding for ARS and $325 million in funding for USDA’s premier competitive grant programs, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
The group contends that despite a demonstrated return on investment of up to $32 for every dollar spent on agriculture research, just 1.6% of the annual federal research budget is devoted to agriculture. Existing research funding is in jeopardy, stakeholders add, pointing to the fact that earlier this year, university researchers learned that funding they receive from ARS would be cut by 30 percent to help cover costs associated with carrying out Congressional instructions to close 12 labs.
Wheat is especially sensitive to public funding changes, the stakeholders say, as it receives proportionately less private research funding than corn or soybeans. And because wheat research is highly collaborative, says University of Kentucky wheat breeder Dave Van Sanford, a lab closure affects much more than just the individual lab.
"Through the collaboration among scientists and the integration of tools that stakeholders are immediately able to use, the proliferation of products and deliverables like new resistant varieties, the leveraging of research, the spillover effects into other arenas – none of this would be possible if we did not have this community of scientists, and people were just doing this work on their own," he says. "There’s no way that the individual parts would equal the sum of what we’re able to accomplish."
Wisness suggests a possible underlying cause behind the current funding struggles.
"I think one of the things that public ag research struggles with is complacency," he says. "There is complacency among consumers who think their food just magically appears. There is complacency among growers. A lot of growers just expect these programs to continue and that they ‘just happen.’ In today’s economic situation, we have to make an effort to convince people that these things are not only critical for a few farmers – they’re critical for the country as well."
In conjunction with the stakeholder meeting, NAWG has launched a new microsite to provide more information about wheat research needs and the wheat research community. Visit www.wheatresearch.org
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