May 26, 2016

Agricultural research needs to be a priority

Good recordkeeping was called the "cornerstone" of animal health.

By Clint Krehbiel, ASAS Public Policy Committee

As the world’s population is projected to grow by one-third by the year 2050, sustainably meeting the nutritional needs of a growing population and its demand for meat, dairy, and fish consumption will require a significant investment in research and development so that the productivity of today can be enhanced to meet the increased demands of the future. In addition to enhanced animal production, research will be required to determine and respond to the impacts of changes in the global environment on animal agriculture, how to improve equitable distribution of animal agricultural products, and how to improve engagement and communication between those involved in animal agriculture and the public (NRC, 2015). Research to ensure sustainable agricultural growth will be critical to addressing this global challenge to food security.

Advances in animal agriculture have been a result of research and development of new technologies (Roberts et al., 2009). In 2015, the value of U.S. food animal production was projected to be approximately $190 billion and the value of crop production projected to be $185 billion, representing 45 and 43 percent, respectively, of the total value of the agricultural sector (USDA ERS, 2016). However, the U.S. is allocating less than 0.20 percent, including both National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) appropriations, of the U.S. food animal production value back into publicly funded animal science research (NRC, 2015). The neglect of investment in animal agriculture is contrary to the significant economic value and high rate of return of this sector to the United States and globally. There are various sources of funding for research and development, including private funding, but public funding should address longer-term research needs, and support research that addresses public goods.

Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of the NIFA, recently blogged that in 2002, 24 percent of the proposals submitted to the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI) were funded. Today, the funding rate for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which replaced the NRI program, is approximately 10 percent. In FY 2014, NIFA received 3,875 proposals for funding by the AFRI program, of which 1,640 were recommended for funding; however, NIFA could only fund 390 proposals with the resources available (Ramaswamy, 2016). Dr. Ramaswamy’s concern was that due to the limited funding success, many talented scientists and researchers are leaving agricultural sciences at a time when the need for their innovation is greatest, or that their taking expertise to other countries that are more supportive of public sector research. Due to a growing population, science-based information related to climate change, diminishing land and water resources, and food security is becoming ever more urgent. Support for research becomes even more critical when one considers new and invasive species of pests, antimicrobial resistance, pollinator health, sustainability, human and animal health and nutritional outcomes, and the need for innovations for advanced manufacturing and economic enterprises. As suggested by Dr. Ramaswamy, “funding research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our Nation’s future, an investment that will pay big dividends in the years to come.”

USDA’s NIFA and its competitive grants program, AFRI, were created as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. With the 2008 Farm Bill, AFRI was authorized by Congress to be funded at $700 million per year. Since its authorization, Congressional appropriations for AFRI have gone as high as $350 million for this 2016 fiscal year. Those that recognize that our nation’s food security is tied directly to our national security, have called for increased funding. Advocates include the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, members of Congress, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, farm groups, commodity organizations, Nobel Laureates and other scientists, universities, and young people engaged in 4-H and FFA. In addition, it is encouraging that the President has requested $700 million for AFRI in his 2017 Budget, including a legislative action to make available $325 million in mandatory funding as part of a government-wide investment in research and development.

Reinvigorating animal agricultural research is essential to sustainably address the global challenge of food security. We are supportive of Dr. Ramaswamy in his efforts to “work with Congress so that our best and brightest scientists can find solutions to our most pressing societal and global challenges.” As animals are equally important as plants to the U.S. economy, and to feeding the world, we hope that equitable funding will be provided in support of animal and plant research.


Ramaswamy, S. 2016. Agricultural research needs to be a priority. Available at Accessed 5/18/16.

National Research Council. 2015. Critical Role of Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Roberts, R. M., G. W. Smith, F. W. Bazer, J. Cibelli, G. E. Seidel, Jr., D. E. Bauman, L. P. Reynolds, and J. J. Ireland. 2009. Farm animal research in crisis. Science 324:468-469.

USDA ERS. 2014. U.S. and State-Level Farm Income and Wealth Statistics (Includes the U.S. Farm Income). Online. Available at Accessed May 19, 2016.