A report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology calls for $700 million per year in new funding for agricultural research, which it says has been flat for the past 30 years.
The report, prepared in response to requests from the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and former US Department of Agriculture official Roger Beachy, recommends that the National Science Foundation increase its annual ag spending to $130 million from $120 million and that the USDA nearly double its research funding to $500 million from $265 million per year.
“Agriculture used to attract the best and the brightest,” Daniel Schrag, a geologist at Harvard University and a co-chair of the study, tells the Nature News Blog. “We should be competing with biochemistry, with molecular biology, with earth sciences, with engineering — with any other science program in the country.”
Among a number of recommendations, PCAST says that the USDA should reprioritize its intramural research budget so that it doesn't spend as much on commodities like corn, soy, rice, wheat, and cotton. Such crops currently account for 36 percent of the USDA research budget, but, as the report notes, commercial ag-bio firms are already motivated to invest in improvements in these crops.
“Private industry has an essential role to play in agricultural research, especially when it comes to scaling up and commercializing new agricultural developments and commodities,” Barbara Schaal, co-chair of the PCAST Agricultural Preparedness Working Group, says in a statement. “But many of the challenges we face today, including long-term water security and the need for better integrated pest management strategies, involve public goods not easily monetized and are unlikely to be addressed by the private sector. These are the domains where the Federal Government can and should take the lead.”