By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The America Grows Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, would significantly increase U.S. public investment in agricultural research and development. Reintroduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) on April 26, the bill has garnered the support of over 100 agriculture and industry organizations, including the Farm Journal Foundation.
“Right now (the proposed legislation) is mainly a marker bill, but with the farm bill right around the corner, who knows?” said David Hong, senior vice president for government affairs for the Foundation. “The House has introduced a companion bill; we’re hoping to bring more cosponsors along.”
Durbin’s bill would increase funding for agricultural research by five percent annually on an inflation-adjusted basis at four agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the next 10 years. The bill is modeled after the successful 21st Century Cures Act, which passed in 2016 and spurred additional funding for the National Institutes of Health.
The U.S. share of total agriculture research investments compared to other high-income countries had declined from 35 percent in 1960 to less than 25 percent by 2013, according to Durbin’s website. By comparison, over the past 30 years Chinese investments in agriculture research had risen eight-fold. In addition, the American Farm Bureau Federation recently released a study which emphasized America’s risk of falling behind in public agriculture research, most notably to China.
“The time has come for the United States to reinvigorate our commitment to publicly funded agriculture innovations. The America Grows Act would boost USDA funding for more breakthroughs and innovations to make America stronger than ever before in food and agriculture,” said Durbin, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “In recent years, China has elevated its commitment to public agriculture research while U.S. public funding has fallen behind. If we want to maintain and strengthen American leadership, we must restore our commitment to bold and effective federal research funding.”
In October 2019, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Congresswoman Kim Schrier (D-WA) introduced their version of the American Grows Act, which was recently reintroduced. It also calls for five percent yearly funding increases during the next 10 years for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service. The bill was passed from the House Committee on Agriculture — of which all three bill sponsors are members — to the House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research in November 2019, where it remained.
“We need to make big, bold investments in agricultural research to empower our farmers to compete across the world,” said Bustos, who recently informed her constituency that she would not seek re-election after her current term expires. “Illinois has a proud tradition of agricultural research – especially at the Peoria Ag Lab – and I’m proud to join my colleagues on this critical legislation.”
A recent study by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics shows that ag research provides one of the highest returns of any public investment, estimated at $17 to every $1 spent.
Hong said that increasing support for ag research is a matter of both economic and national security concerns. “The America Grows Act would enable us to invest in solutions to pest, disease, and severe weather challenges that threaten our entire food system, and ensure safe, affordable food supplies for all,” he noted.
Maintaining U.S. competitiveness is vitally important to ensuring abundant, affordable food supplies as well as supporting the economy, according to the bill’s proponents, because food and agriculture account for nearly $3 trillion of U.S. GDP, 1 in 6 jobs, and contribute more than $155 trillion in export value to the nation’s trade balance.
Panetta, a Republican whose California district is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” said increases in agricultural research spending would help ensure continued prosperity for the region’s fruit and vegetable growers. “I want to ensure that our producers have all of the tools they need to continue to innovate and compete in the global economy,” he said.
A full version of the bill is available at this link: https://www.durbin.senate.gov/download/america-grows-act-bill-text-