August 29, 2016

New report on impact of investing in ag research and extension


By ASAS Public Policy Committee

August 29, 2016 – A new report, “New Insights on the Impacts of Public Agricultural Research and Extension,” discusses the importance of public investment in agricultural research and extension activities. While the U.S. has been a leader in science-based increases in agricultural productivity for most of the 20th century, growth in public funding for agricultural research declined by 20% from 1995-1998, rebounded slightly through 2006, and then further declined during the economic recession since 2009. In contrast, Brazil and China have been investing heavily in agricultural research.

The USDA’s Current Research Information System (CRIS) maintains an archive of data from research projects funded by the USDA. In 1970, about 70% of the U.S. total expenditures on agricultural research were on research that addressed agricultural productivity (e.g., production of crops and livestock with increased efficiency and lowered costs; protection of crops and livestock from diseases or pests; etc.) and 30% of public funding supported other types of research (e.g., rural development, agricultural marketing, conservation of natural resources, forestry, wildlife, etc.). Since 1970, the relative amount of public funding on agricultural productivity-oriented research in the U.S. has been declining.

It takes time for society to realize the impact of investing in research. For example, it has been estimated that at least 9 years are required to see an impact of agricultural research followed by another 6 years of receiving high and constant benefits from agricultural research and then another 20 years for the impacts of agricultural research to decline or become obsolete. In contrast, about half of the impacts of extension are realized within one year after delivery of extension programs, because extension programs are designed to influence current decision-making processes.

Given this long time lag (e.g., 35 years) to realize the impact of research on agricultural productivity, it is imperative that the U.S. increases public funding for agricultural research and extension to ensure that American food production systems remain innovative to keep future food prices low while reducing inputs and conserving natural resources. Efficient and sustainable food production systems will be needed to meet the growing demand for animal-sourced foods from an increasing middle-class in developing countries and a global population that is expected to reach more than 9 billion people by 2050.


WE Huffman. 2016. New Insights on the Impacts of Public Agricultural Research and Extension. Choices 31(1):1-6. Available online at: