Opinion Columns & Blogs

Kirk Schulz, John Floros: Increase funding for agriculture, food research

As they go about helping farmers maintain a consistent, reasonably priced food supply, America’s agricultural scientists may soon receive a sign of our country’s confidence in their work.

For the first time since Congress created the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative in the 2008 farm bill, President Obama has recommended that the program be given full funding of $700 million. AFRI is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In last year’s budget, AFRI was funded for $350 million, the highest it has been in its eight years of existence. The time is right to increase funding to the full $700 million.

Population estimates for 2050 indicate that the world’s population will approach 10 billion people, about 3 billion more than we have today. Fully funding AFRI is crucial in order to address growing global food demands, support a workforce that will identify solutions to complex agricultural challenges, and strengthen economies locally and nationally.

To feed 10 billion people, experts predict that the world’s farmers will have to produce as much food over the next 35 years as we have produced in the entire history of mankind, and we will have to do it in a way that protects natural resources. We simply can’t wait any longer to meet this challenge.

Our world is in need of new scientific breakthroughs in food safety, nutrition, crop and livestock production, and more areas to offset emerging animal and plant diseases, food-borne pathogens, children’s health risks, climate change and many other issues.

As an example, in 2012 Kansas State University received a grant for $25 million through AFRI to focus on preventing the incidence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, in beef, a group of bacteria that causes more than 265,000 infections in the U.S. each year. Because of our aggressive approach toward beef products, STEC is now a relatively minor contributor to illness.

We still have 2 million cases of salmonella in the food industry each year. If we put the bright light on salmonella as we did STEC, and we’re starting to do that now, we will see that level of risk go down.

America’s agricultural scientists have a track record of turning public investments into positive impacts for local economies. And yet the National Institute of Food and Agriculture reports that 9 in 10 proposals it receives for AFRI are not funded each year.

A lot of good research is left on the table because of a lack of funding.

Let’s make sure that our best scientists have the resources they need to maintain American agriculture’s status as the most efficient, safe and productive food system in the world.

Kirk Schulz is the president of Kansas State University and John Floros is the dean of the university’s College of Agriculture.