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Banking on Ag Research
Wednesday, February 3, 2016 2:20PM CST

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- As sequestration has pressed USDA to make budget cuts in recent years, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Wednesday he hopes Congress will support the president's budget proposal, which will include a doubling of federal dollars spent on agriculture research and development.

President Barack Obama's proposed 2017 budget will be announced next week and would bump federal spending on ag research from about $350 million to $700 million -- the amount called for in the 2008 farm bill. The funding was re-authorized in the 2014 farm bill.

Vilsack said he believes Congress will get behind the need to fully fund research through the USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, or AFRI.

"I think people understand and appreciate the need for additional innovation," he said. "I'm hopeful that people will see the benefits of innovation in agriculture. That would be my hope. The budget gives us the opportunity this year to finally meet the amount ($700 million)."

On Wednesday USDA announced $30.1 million in competitive grants to fund 80 research projects centered on improving food safety, reduce antibiotic resistance in food, and to increase plant resilience.

Since 2008 AFRI has been funded at below half the levels established in the farm bill. Vilsack said Wednesday this means USDA has turned away about 90% of the research proposals presented for funding.

Grants typically are awarded to universities, non-profits, community groups, businesses, foundations, associations and federal agency and international partnerships.

John P. Holdren, science and technology adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters the president understands the importance of agriculture research and development.

"Further strengthening our investments in agricultural research will be essential for U.S. farmers to be able to keep the nation's food supply abundant, healthy, reliable and sustainable through the 21st century," he said. "That's why the president's forthcoming 2017 budget request doubles funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to the full authorized level of $700 million."

AFRI grants are administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The latest $31.1 million in grants includes $15.1 million to fund 35 projects in AFRI's food safety area. Those projects will focus on enhancing food safety through improved processing technologies, mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, improving food safety and improving food quality.

The funding includes $3.4 million to address antimicrobial resistance throughout the food chain. NIFA also is awarding $15 million to universities, laboratories, and research organizations to fund 45 projects on plant breeding for agricultural production, plant growth and development, composition, stress tolerance, photosynthesis and nutrient use in agricultural plants.

The grants awarded cover a wide variety of research areas, from improving alfalfa yields, to plant resistance to drought, to plant use of nitrogen, http://tinyurl.com/….

Since AFRI was established in 2008, the program has led to innovations and discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety.

"In the face of diminishing land and water resources and increasingly variable climatic conditions, food production must increase to meet the demands of world population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050," Vilsack said. "Funding in research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our nation's future, an investment which will pay big dividends in the years to come."

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture awards AFRI grants in six farm bill priority areas including plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition, and health; bioenergy, natural resources, and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Read details about filing for the grants here, http://tinyurl.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ToddNeeleyDTN


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