Farm bill ‘critical’ to ag research
The passage of a new farm bill this month has agricultural researchers optimistic about consistent federal funding for their projects.
Glynda Becker, director of federal relations at Washington State University, said the university was pleasantly surprised by the ongoing support for agricultural research in the farm bill.
“Having that consistency in our ability to know where our funding is coming from and that there will be a stream of funding for us to compete for these research programs is very important,” Becker said.
Two-thirds of WSU’s research budget comes from outside grants and contracts. The largest single source is competitive grants from USDA, said Jim Moyer, associate dean of research and director of the Agriculture Research Center in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
USDA funds total about $20 million to $30 million annually, roughly 50 percent of the college’s outside research funding, Moyer said, not including WSU Extension.
Many research programs that depended on federal funding were interrupted or on hiatus pending passage of a new farm bill, Moyer said. The farm bill provides assurance that those programs will now continue, he said.
The bill also increases funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which helps fund large projects addressing agricultural problems for key Washington crops.
“WSU has been extremely competitive — dominant, if you will — in that program,” Moyer said. “The interruption really limited some of our opportunities.”
The farm bill also increases funding for the National Clean Plant Network, which supports WSU’s Clean Plant Center Northwest at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Wash.
“We’re feeling pretty good about the opportunities available to us, new and existing,” Moyer said.
The specialty crop initiative receives $80 million annually nationwide, Becker said. This funding is mandatory.
Becker said the Clean Plant Network is part of plant and disease programs, with national funding authorized at $236 million over five years. Funding is not mandatory, which means WSU will have to fight annually to maintain it, she said.
At the University of Idaho, most reductions occurred in 2007 to 2012, cutting faculty, staff and operating resources “significantly,” said John Foltz, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
The university had to rely on private dollars to keep some research farms open. The university continues conversations with agricultural groups that offered support, Foltz said.
“We’re working with some of the other commodity groups to come up with some innovative ways to work together to achieve common goals,” he said.
Foltz said the total CALS budget is $67.9 million. Federal formula funds comprise $5.2 million, or 7.8 percent of the budget. Those dollars are matched with $10.5 million in state funds, or 15.6 percent of the budget.
State research funds are roughly $14 million, about 20.8 percent of the budget, Foltz said. Grants and contracts are about $17 million, about 25 percent. Other funds, include legislatively appropriated funds, make up the rest of the budget.
Foltz is “cautiously optimistic” for the future.
“With more and appropriate use of resources, we can do our jobs better, which is find solutions to challenges producers have,” he said.