Research money can help ag feed world’s billions

May 6, 2013 

The need to produce and deliver safe and nutritious food is a fundamental human concern. With world population expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, experts say that we will have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have in the last 10,000. Unfortunately, funding for vital agricultural research lags far behind other entities and is threatening the future health of our society.

In December, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended that the United States increase its investment in agricultural research by $700 million per year. Instead, the sequester resulted in cuts of approximately 7.6 percent. This is simply not sustainable.

For more than 140 years, the University of California, a land-grant university, has conducted critical food, agricultural and natural resources research and public outreach that serve Californians, the nation, and the world. Farmers, ranchers, and consumers — including low-income and underserved communities — benefit from the UC’s agricultural research that helps to ensure a safe, secure and plentiful supply of food and energy as well as clean and sustainable air, water and other natural resources.

In 2011, California farm revenue was $43.5 billion making California the nation’s top agricultural state. With the University of California as a vital partner, California produces more than 400 agricultural commodities, employing 800,000 workers on 81,500 farms. The UC and other public universities conduct nearly two-thirds of federally funded academic research each year, spurring economic innovation — especially in agriculture.

Agricultural research and extension have helped make U.S. farmers among the most efficient in the world. Over the past 30 years, California has increased the production of milk by 44 percent, processing tomatoes by 69percent and almonds by 122 percent.

At the same time, new production methods have helped growers save 100,000 acre-feet of water a year.

But our status as the world leader in agricultural production is threatened by the waning public investment in agricultural research and is crippling our ability to tackle the global food and water challenges of the 21st century.

Due to state and federal budget cuts over the past decade, the number of Cooperative Extension Specialists and Advisors has decreased by 38percent. This has caused reductions in our Integrated Pest Management Program, Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program, Nutrition Education programs, Water Resources Center and the elimination of regional offices.

While new partnerships and support from industry have helped, many of the developments necessary to meet these challenges are public goods not easily monetized, but long-term investments benefit us all. If the country continues to disinvest in basic agricultural research, the results will be devastating for the health and safety of our country and the world.

“If we act strategically today, we will gain invaluable benefits tomorrow, including enhanced food security, better nutrition, greener sources of energy, and healthier lives,” said Daviel Schrag, co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

We must all look to the future and see the opportunities generated by restoring and — whenever possible — growing funding for the core capacity programs which help underpin the infrastructure of land-grant colleges of food, agriculture, and natural resources and Cooperative Extension units across America. Working together, we can ensure a safe, healthy food supply for the planet.

Barbara Allen-Diaz is vice president of the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Don Bransford chairs the UC President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources and is a partner in Bransford Farms in Colusa.

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