This report analyzes publicly funded agricultural research and the structure of agriculture, and it offers recommendations for research and extension policies. It evaluates the applicability of publicly funded agricultural research across the agricultural distribution system: from small, poorly capitalized farms to large, well-capitalized industrial organizations. Although the committee acknowledges that the public sector has been encouraged, and in some cases mandated, to serve constituents, as illustrated by the increasing public policy support for small farmers and other underserved groups in the last four farm bills, the focus of this report is on analysis without judgment about the social desirability of particular distributions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requested that the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Research Council (NRC) convene a panel of experts to examine whether publicly funded agricultural research has influenced the structure of U.S. agriculture and, if so, how. The Committee to Review the Role of Publicly Funded Agricultural Research on the Structure of U.S. Agriculture was asked to assess the role of public-sector agricultural research on changes in the size and numbers of farms, with particular emphasis on the evolution of very-large-scale operations. The committee’s charge was as follows:
Review relevant literature, including pertinent rural development literature, on the role of research and the development of new technology in promoting structural change in farming, evaluating theoretical and empirical evidence.
Consider whether public-sector research has influenced the size of farm operations and, if so, by what means.
Provide recommendations for future research and extension policies, giving consideration to improving access to the results of public-sector research that leads to new farm production practices and technology.
The committee analyzed publicly funded agricultural research documented in the Current Research Information Systems (CRIS) database, which is the USDA’s documentation and reporting system for research projects in agriculture, food and nutrition, and forestry. It also considered information drawn from case studies and from the scientific literature. The committee gathered input and information from stakeholders during two public workshops held in conjunction with this study (Appendixes A and B).