Agriculture research is an important priority for federal government spending, but no programs likely will emerge unscathed from anticipated budget cuts.
That was the message received by the nearly 50 participants in a recent wheat-industry research fly-in, who held more than 51 meetings on Capitol Hill and with leaders of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
The growers, scientists, millers and bakers came to D.C. as part of the annual event sponsored by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and researchers who make up the National Wheat Improvement Committee.
In a sign of increasing industry cooperation, this year’s participant list was more broad-based than in the recent past. About half of participants were wheat growers and researchers, and about half were bakers or affiliated with the American Bakers Association (ABA).
In meetings on the Hill and at USDA, wheat chain teams stressed the importance of wheat to the economy; the need to produce new varieties to fight pests and disease; the importance of maintaining hard-won infrastructure that could not be easily replaced in better financial times; and the crucial tie between research and the United States’ food and national security interests.
While they largely found understanding of these vital needs, the wheat representatives were also reminded repeatedly that the federal budget situation is grim, and cuts are likely in budgets for the remainder of the existing fiscal year and the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Despite increasing interest in wheat in recent years by private companies, the crop is still disproportionally dependent on public research performed at ARS locations and state land grant universities, which have specialized expertise and staff. This work is highly localized and is supported by a combination of federal funds, state funds and producer-paid check-off dollars.
At the federal level, agriculture research faces a particular threat because it is considered discretionary spending—the type most likely to be targeted—and because local research projects, while meritorious, have typically been funded with earmarks, which will not be a part of this year’s budget process. Wheat teams learned that Congressional offices have not yet been given instructions on how they can show support for funding priorities.
More information about wheat research funding and projects, including a new map showing each U.S. region’s wheat classes, research labs and challenges addressed, is available online at www.wheatworld.org/research.