On the authorizing front, with the demise of the “Supercommittee” process, it is expected now that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will consider a reauthorization of the 2008 Farm Bill next year. As many of you may know, the Farm Bill process comes around every 5 years when existing authorities for the Department expire. Not every Farm Bill is expected to be as transformational for agricultural science as the 2008 Farm Bill, which created NIFA to be the foremost extramural agricultural research granting agency in the nation, as well as NIFA’s flagship granting program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). But every Farm Bill has a significant impact on research.
More fundamentally than funding (and this is the second primary challenge), our country simply isn’t doing enough to educate a sufficient number of students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, and particularly in the food, agriculture, and natural resource sciences, to meet future demand.
Over the past 30 years, the total number of Ph.D. recipients in agricultural fields has only remained constant, while the numbers of Ph.D.s awarded in other life science fields has grown. Because of the tight correspondence of grant funding to graduate student training, it’s not surprising that flat funding of research leads to flat education of graduate students.
Within agricultural disciplines, there has actually been a decline in the number of Ph.D.s awarded in plant, animal, and forestry sciences while the number in environmental science has risen. So our education isn’t keeping up with our scientific needs. The private sector often highlights that it does not have the workforce needed for agricultural research—meaning that, at a time where jobs are in short supply for most of the population, there are jobs going unfilled in these crucial sciences.
Training the scientists today to solve the food and agricultural challenges of tomorrow is one of the smartest investments we can make—must make—if we are serious about leading the world to a food secure future.
At every turn, in every partnership, USDA science agencies are delivering on their mission to help ensure a healthy, productive, safe, and sustainable food and agricultural system, while protecting our precious natural and human resources.
Now more than ever we cannot relent in our support for food and agricultural science, nor neglect to educate and train the future scientists who will take the advances made today to new heights.
So we need to continue to stress the vital importance of this research and emphasize the benefits it brings to society.
As awareness grows, sustained support for food and agricultural research will follow. I look forward to continue working with many of you here today to strengthen the ability of food and agricultural science to keep our food system safe and secure. Thank you.