The Seeds of Successful Agriculture

Posted by on February 2nd, 2018 | 0 Comments »


The U.S. agriculture sector produces an abundance of food and agriculture products that are safe, nutritious and affordable. It achieves this remarkable feat using less land, labor and inputs/acre, and fewer livestock, that it did 60 years ago.

As a result, U.S. consumers enjoy some of the lowest food prices in the world while farmers benefit from billions of dollars in agricultural exports each year.

The U.S. agriculture sector depends on research and development for its productivity and success. Research into science-based innovations and best practices, as well as a robust extension system, has been the driving force behind the growth of Total Factor Productivity (TFP) in U.S. agriculture.

Research and innovation happens throughout the agricultural value chain. Farmers identify new strategies for growing and harvesting crops, entrepreneurs create breakthrough technologies, retailers find uses for unconsumed food, agribusinesses develop sophisticated products that improve productivity, control costs and manage risk.

The Global Harvest Initiative has identified five strategic policy goals that are essential to stimulating agricultural productivity growth and resilience. These policies help reduce waste and loss in the value chain, stimulate innovation and mitigate climate change. To learn more, explore the 2017 Global Agricultural Report® (GAP Report®) webpage.

Public sector research in crop and livestock production, the economics of agriculture, resource conservation and food safety is the foundation for these discoveries and innovations.

Research is A Public Good

For decades, federal and state governments have understood that agricultural R&D and extension programs are essential public goods.

Public R&D expenditures grew by at least 2.6 percent annually after World War II and continued at a strong pace before slackening off in the 1980s. [1]

Since 2000, however, public investments in agricultural R&D have declined by 6 percent. (See figure 1.1 below.) If the current spending levels remains constant (in nominal terms) until 2050, the annual rate of TFP growth will be cut in half from 1.5 percent to 0.75 percent. [2]

As a result, prices for food and agricultural commodities could rise, more inputs (including land, water and fertilizer) may be needed to keep up with agricultural demand and efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture will not realize their full potential.

To mobilize more funding for agricultural research, the 2014 Farm Bill established the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR), a nonprofit corporation that raises matching private-sector funds for cutting-edge research. Chart source: 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), page 29.


Preparing for Future Threats

In 2015, an outbreak of avian influenza resulted in the death of nearly 50 million turkeys and chickens at a cost of $3.3 billion dollars. Creating a vaccine bank for high-consequence animal diseases needs to be a priority for the next Farm Bill.

U.S. farmers face formidable challenges from crop disease, pests and climate change. Funding for animal science research is urgently needed; outbreaks of livestock diseases such as avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease could devastate the industry.

To meet these challenges, experts say that the USDA’s annual research budget should be substantially increased from today’s levels. [3] The next Farm Bill provides the opportunity to address this need.

R&D investments have a long gestation period and require sufficient and steady investments in order to bear fruit in coming decades.

The investments we make today will increase the productivity and sustainability of U.S. agriculture, promote the vitality of rural communities and ensure sufficient nutritious and affordable food for future generations.


[1,2] Heisey, Paul, Sun Ling Wang, and Keith Fuglie. “Public Agricultural Research Spending and Future U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth: Scenarios for 2010-2015.” USDA ERS ERB-17, (July 2011).
[3] “Retaking the Field: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research,” Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation, 2017. See also, Pardey, P.G. and J.M. Beddow, “Revitalizing Agricultural Research and Development to Sustain U.S. Competitiveness,” commissioned by The Farm Journal Foundation, 2017.




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