Senators Voice Support for Agricultural Research at Two Hearings

By | June 22, 2017

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressed his support for a number of the department’s programs during a Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on June 13. He testified on the Trump Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request of for the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) stated concern about proposed cuts to a number of department programs, including research. His sentiments were echoed by Ranking Member Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who also spoke about the importance of agricultural research programs and the need for new innovations in agricultural science.

USDA research programs arose during the question and answer portion of the hearing. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the full appropriations committee, discussed the importance of collaborations between academic institutions, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities, and other USDA programs. Moreover, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) emphasized the importance of agricultural research in the development of countermeasures against an ever-growing list of agricultural pests and pathogens. In his responses, Secretary Perdue suggested that the nation requires a “right-sized” USDA research budget and that research is vitally importance to U.S. agricultural productivity.

On June 15, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing entitled “Agricultural Research: Perspectives on Past and Future Successes for the 2018 Farm Bill.” The session featured three witnesses from USDA:  Ann Bartuska, PhD, acting undersecretary for research, education, and economics; Chavonda Jacobs-Young, PhD, administrator for ARS; and Sonny Ramaswamy, PhD, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Sally Rockey, PhD, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) also testified.

In her opening statement, Dr. Bartuska discussed the role of the federal government in advancing the well-being of society through agricultural research. She cautioned that the nation is falling further behind due to declining budgets in USDA research programs. Dr. Ramaswamy highlighted NIFA’s programs in areas including public health, biosecurity, and nutrition, and that the government must support and protect the nation’s “research engine” in agricultural science. Dr. Jacobs-Young described ARS research that involves providing a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply, and its important facilities and collections, including the U.S. National Germplasm System.  Finally, Dr. Rockey outlined how FFAR, established as an independent organization by the 2014 Farm Bill, has had early success in leveraging public and private investments to undertake a diverse array of research projects, including efforts to improve soil quality through the use of cover crops, and rapid response strategies to combat agricultural pathogens and pests.

Several committee members, including Senators John Hoeven (R-ND), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), spoke about the importance of USDA facilities and programs in their states. Following forceful comments by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) on the importance of agricultural research programs, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) assented, reciting the oft-used phrase “the president proposes, Congress disposes.” He insisted that he would work to avert cuts to USDA research programs. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) asked the panel about scientific integrity policies. Dr. Bartuska stated that USDA is “very proud” of its policy on scientific integrity and is making a comprehensive effort to train the agricultural science community about the importance of proper scientific practice.