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Why More Research?

Agricultural Research is Cost-effective and Stimulates the Economy

Seventy-five percent of agricultural productivity growth can be attributed to Investment in agricultural research and development, and expenditures on infrastructure.

Agriculture, compared with all other industries in the U.S. economy, has one of highest rates of productivity growth. Agricultural productivity's strong performance has driven the growth of agricultural output and sustained economic returns to the land, labor and capital engaged in agricultural production. It has likewise enabled the food processing sector to secure abundant commodity inputs at low and declining real cost-cost savings that have been passed along to the consumers in the form of less expensive food purchases.

The impressive record for agricultural productivity growth has rested heavily on the long history of public investments in infrastructure and agricultural research and development. These are the main conclusions of two new reports from the Economic Research Service, Agricultural Productivity in the United States (AIB-740) and U.S. Agricultural Growth and Productivity: An Economy-Wide Perspective (AER-758).

Agricultural Research Improves the Quality of Life and Health

Human health research is also an important and growing component of the research, education and extension mission supported by USDA. Human health is enhanced by safe foods, balanced diets, and proper nutrition. As the future challenges us with new and more complicated human diseases, scientists must expand outside their traditional disciplines and look toward the work that is being done in other areas such as plant and animal genomics. Transgenic plants and animals offer potential human health benefits never before thought possible. Research on how our food is produced, pesticide usage, animal care, and food handling issues also challenge our scientists. These demands and opportunities must be answered in a way that sustains or enhances our quality of life. Additionally, environmental issues force us to focus on sustaining and enhancing ecosystems including animals, plants, and microorganisms; as well as waste management for animal manure and food processing wastes.

USDA's basic research agenda is larger than ever, and greater challenges lie ahead. We must maintain the growth that began last year as the next step to improved research funding.

Agricultural Science is Essential to the Age of Biology

Several Members of Congress and the Administration have rallied around the principle of supporting biomedical research. However, research for human health extends beyond areas that are part of the mission of the National Institutes of Health. The President has stated that the future will be known as the "age of biology." He listed many biomedical research advances as examples that will improve human health. Human health research is also an important and growing component of the research, education and extension mission supported by USDA. Human health is enhanced by safe foods, balanced diets, and proper nutrition.

As the future challenges us with new and more complicated hum diseases, scientists must expand outside their traditional disciplines and look toward the work that is being done in other areas such as plant and animal genomics. Transgenic plants and animals offer potential human health benefits never before thought possible. Research on how our food is produced, pesticide usage, animal care, and food handling issues also challenge our scientists. These demands and opportunities must be answered in a way that sustains or enhances our quality of life. Additionally, environmental issues force us to focus on sustaining and enhancing ecosystems including animals, plants, and microorganisms; as well as waste management for animal manure and food processing wastes.

USDA's basic research agenda is larger than ever, and greater challenges lie ahead, yet funding continues to be stagnant in agricultural research.

Food Demand Expected to Double in 30 Years

Humankind faces an unprecedented challenge--how to meet the food needs of 8 to 10 billion people in the next century without devastating the environment. The dramatic increase in world population will double the demand for food in about 30 years. The choices we make today about how much to spend on food and agricultural research will largely determine not only the amount of food produced in the future, but also how well it is distributed, and how that level of production affects environmental quality. Increased investment in agricultural research is essential.

Demands on Research System are Expanding Rapidly

The 21st century will lead to new demands and new expectations. Agriculture in the United States has served the nation well by insuring a wholesome and affordable food supply--a driving force behind the research mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is broad recognition, however, that the USDA must change course to meet new challenges associated with the dramatic increase in world population, maintaining international economic competitiveness, improving environmental sustainability, enhancing nutrition, minimizing health care costs through disease prevention, and enhancing food safety.

It is important to recognize that research in Agriculture goes beyond on-farm production of food, feed, and fiber. In this time of evolutionary change, USDA will need to be involved in many avenues of research to solve different societal problems; from creating environmentally sustainable development, rural medical delivery systems, and improved technology for food processing, to devising more effective and cost-efficient health care systems. Through these research activities, the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) division of the USDA is able to create a huge potential for the private sector to gain a comparative economic advantage. As House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Joe Skeen (R-NM) noted, "The only way that less than two percent of the population can produce food and fiber for the needs of this country and also provide this country with its tremendous export opportunities is through research." 1

As the world population increases, and agricultural resources become more limited, society becomes more dependent on agricultural research. The United States must remain a leader in food, feed, and fiber production to gain economic and industrial advantages. Less funding for agricultural research will harm the viability and competitiveness of U.S. Agriculture products, especially in global markets. The future calls for the United States to create a safety net to develop better technology to serve the population increase that lies ahead.

1 Representative Joe Skeen (R-NM) Chairman, House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Relates Agencies (House Report 104-613)

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