Representatives argue need for continued funding
By MATTHEW WEAVER
There's no room for more cuts in government ag research funding, members of the National Association of Wheat Growers say.
About 35 growers, researchers, millers and bakers held roughly 50 meetings as part of the association's annual Washington advocacy trip.
"(We) really express to stakeholders and government leaders that research is not a one-year or even a five-year process. It's a 10-year, 12-year, 20-year process," said NAWG communications director Melissa George Kessler. "If you want to have good varieties and really good agricultural production down the road, you need to start now."
Jane Demarchi, NAWG's director of government affairs for research and technology, said the current economic climate is difficult, but there's no room to make additional cuts in the agriculture budget for research.
The USDA's total budget request for research, education and economics for 2013 is $2.6 billion, an increase of $68 million over fiscal 2012.
Demarchi said the president's budget request for research is slightly higher than the funding provided last year, but it will likely prove a high-water mark.
Demarchi said USDA wheat research was cut by about $1 million, dropping from $47.8 million in 2010 to $46.6 million in 2011. The funding for 2012 remains unclear, she said.
She expects a funding conflict similar to last year, with the U.S. House of Representatives proposing "very dramatic" reductions in research expenditures and the Senate supporting higher numbers.
Washtucna, Wash., wheat grower Brett Blankenship, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and NAWG secretary-treasurer, likened wheat research to a three-legged stool, with funding coming from the federal government, state governments and the growers.
"Broad, public-based research that affects all of us needs to be done at the federal level," Blankenship said.
Blankenship said state governments tend to think that if they cut back, perhaps someone else will build their legs longer to make up the difference.
"Each leg has to do its individual part equally well, or it won't stand up," he said.
NAWG first vice president Bing Von Bergen, a Montana farmer, said new problems arise every year, and the industry must rely on research partners to deal with them. With reduced state funding, producers are doubling the amount of money they spend on research, but it's not enough to keep up with new issues, he said. Private sector investments are welcome, but don't cover everything, he said.
"Some problems are more individual to certain states or certain regions that might not be profitable for the private industry," he said. "We have to rely on federal funding for these problems."
North Dakota wheat farmer Bob Wisness said public agriculture research struggles with complacency by consumers and growers, who simply expect the programs to continue.
"We have to make the effort to convince people these things are not only critical for a few farmers, they're critical for the country as well," Wisness said.
Wheat research priorities at a glance
According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, 2013 and farm bill priorities are:
* The wheat industry urges Congress to adopt the fiscal 2013 Obama administration proposal of $1.103 billion for USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
* The industry also urges Congress to appropriate $325 million for USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant program. This program was authorized at $700 million in the 2008 Farm Bill.
* The wheat industry also urges Congress to reauthorize the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative in the 2012 Farm Bill. This collaborative project has been creating and disseminating tools to help farmers fight fusarium head blight -- called scab -- since the late 1990s, with dramatic results.
The priorities are supported by NAWG, the National Wheat Improvement Committee, the North American Millers' Association and the American Bakers Association.