January 2, 2012
The Federation of Animal Science Societies and over 20 other agriculture and science related organizations sent a letter to President Obama and leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate urging an agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and across the board spending cuts. The letter comes as the White House and Congress continue negotiations to resolve the “fiscal cliff” and the resulting sequestration that would kick at the beginning of January 2013. Should sequestration take place, discretionary science programs such as the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) will face significant cuts. The letter goes on to describe some success stories from the AFRI program and the negative impacts sequestration would have on agricultural research.
On Friday, December 7th, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on Agricultural Preparedness and the Agriculture Research Enterprise. FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel attended the White House release event that was led by John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. FASS has been closely tracking the progress of this report as it has been developed by PCAST. The report was announced earlier this year and FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel made public comments in support of agricultural research and the animal sciences to PCAST in March 2012. In his comments, Lowell also described the FAIR 2012 process and copies of the final FAIR 2012 report were delivered to PCAST as it was drafting the report on agricultural preparedness.
The PCAST report recognizes the importance of federal investment in agriculture research and offers a number of recommendations to strengthen the nation’s agriculture research system. Recommendations include:
- Expand the role of competition in agricultural research funding:
- Expand the use of competition in allocation of research funding within intramural and extramural programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Increase the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget for basic science relevant to agriculture from $120 million to $250 million per year.
- Increase the USDA budget for competitive funding of extramural research from $265 million to $500 million per year, consistent with the 2008 congressional authorization.
- Greatly expand a competitively awarded fellowship program for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers at a level of $180 million per year with at least 5-year funding.
- Expand the USDA program of competitive awards for new infrastructure investments for agricultural research with an emphasis on specialization and consolidation to avoid redundancies.
- Create six large, multidisciplinary innovation institutes focused on emerging challenges to agriculture, supported by public-private partnerships at an initial new Federal investment of $150 million per year to create six institutes at a funding level of $25 million per year for no less than 5 years.
- Conduct an internal review of Federal regulatory policy for agriculture to promote regulatory clarity, consistent with Executive Order 13563, as well as the Presidential Memorandum on technology transfer from the national laboratories to the marketplace.
- Establish an implementation committee to act on these recommendations. Create a permanent, independent science advisory committee to advise the Chief Scientist of the USDA.
The recommended increase to the overall investment is welcome news to the agriculture research community and presents an additional opportunity to share the results of FAIR 2012 with policy makers as they consider implementing components of the PCAST report. However, full implementation of the recommendations could prove challenging given the uncertain budget situation and the impending “fiscal cliff”. A full copy of the report can be found on the PCAST website along with a press release.
On December 19th the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an event titled Agriculture: Growing Innovation and Opportunities as a part of its Business Horizon Series. FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel attended the meeting. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the event and stressed the importance of science and technology for the future of agriculture. Secretary Vilsack also commented on the Farm Bill and indicated that it unlikely that a Farm Bill will be completed in 2012.
Speakers from production agriculture, industry and the federal government addressed issues such as meeting the growing global demand for food and which sectors in agriculture were growing the most quickly. USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services Darci Vetter cited increased demands for meat and dairy products as incomes continue to rise in the developing world. Luncheon keynote speaker Gregory Page from Cargill also talked about the importance of animal agriculture and cited the recent PCAST report on agriculture in calling for increased investments in agricultural research.
More information about the event, including a link to Secretary Vilsack’s remarks can be found by clicking here.
Farm Bill Update
The Farm Bill continues to be stalled as leaders from the White House and Congress wrangle over the “fiscal cliff”. One of the paths for the Farm Bill would be to attach it to the deal that would avoid the fiscal cliff. Both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill provide significant savings, making this an attractive option for some in Congress. However, House Speaker Boehner made some public comments in late December that he was hesitant to include the Farm Bill in a fiscal cliff package. With this news, there was some speculation that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees would start the drafting process over again early next year with the target of completing a new Farm Bill before a new budget baseline is announced sometime in March 2013. The timing would be important because changes to the budget baseline in March could result in the committees needing to make additional cuts to save the same amount of money as in the current proposals. There still remains the possibility of an extension of the 2008 bill for some period of time, perhaps a year, although some members of Congress are strongly opposed to an extension.