Note: On August 24, 2013 this post was modified from the original.
Our August food baskets overflow with our farmers’ safe, wholesome and delicious fruits, vegetables and breads. The public agriculture research and development (R&D) that has made food production so successful is declining and we need to restore it. It’s an easy decision, really. For every dollar we’ve invested in R&D consumers and producers have gotten more in return. And there are available sources for the funds.
Consumers and farmers in our regional economy have all benefitted from the research that helped establish our Apple Capital of the World. The Washington State University research and extension service has helped produce several new varieties. A program called integrated pest management reduced pesticide applications in our environment and saved millions for farmers and orchardists and kept prices lower.
Despite its benefits, US public and private agricultural R&D funding is declining and so are US productivity gains. Meanwhile China has increased funding and its productivity is rising. We pay higher wages in the US, so we must have a technological edge in order to compete effectively. If we lose our competitive edge in food production, I’m afraid I might have to eat another tasteless Chinese apple I bit into while traveling in China in 2004.
Investing in R&D pays off. Read the interview in this week’s Empire Press with Deborah Moore, who owns a farm in Grant County with her husband, Doug. R&D innovations helped them create an efficient modern row-crop irrigated farm in Grant County over the last three decades that kept it competitive.
Our national productivity has grown dramatically according to Agree, an agricultural research institute in an April 2013 report titled Public Food and Agricultural Research in the United States: The Rise and Decline of Public Investments, and Policies for Renewal.
The report indicated R&D returns $10-$20 for every dollar invested. If we used the same technology and resources per acre of farmland we had in 1949, we’d need 730 million more acres to produce the food we produced in 2007.
We couldn’t afford it. The 2010 US Census says we currently farm 920 million acres.
“The formal evidence is clear and compelling: public agricultural R&D yields benefits to producers and consumers worth many times more than the costs,” said the report.
The report demonstrates that public agricultural R&D is broadly based and also protects water supplies and the environment. Private R&D uses the broad research findings to target private R&D.
Agricultural Public R&D is minor but essential part of the whole, costing only 8 percent of all agricultural R&D, a tremendous value based on what it helps generate in private R&D.
Where would we get the money? That’s an issue that needs to hammered out in debates between the two competing farm bills’ supporters based on research analysis regarding investments with values.
Whatever the source of funds, the Agree report recommended doubling R&D investments in the next 5-10 years by partnerships with private agribusinesses, levees on production as partial support for the funds.
While we gather up fruits and vegetables this August we should let Representatives Reichert and Hastings know we would like increased support for public agricultural R&D.