For the Capital Press

This year, USDA is committed to helping Congress get a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill passed as soon as possible. This is critical to provide certainty for U.S. producers, while giving USDA the tools we need to continue strengthening the rural economy.

Without a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, one area that would be seriously impacted is USDA's agricultural research.

For more than 100 years, USDA scientists and their partners have made tremendous advancements. They've developed more nutritious foods, invented new medicines and fabrics, improved food safety, learned more about the production of many different plants and animals, and helped create new ways to use plant materials for incredible biobased products.

Today we continue to partner with researchers across the nation to grow agriculture's productivity and improve the lives of all Americans. For example:

USDA scientists are working with the military to develop insect-repelling uniforms -- keeping our military safe from insects like mosquitoes and sand flies that can carry disease.

They're looking into the potential to use byproducts from olives to combat E. coli and keep our food safe.

They're developing new methods to employ natural predators against corn rootworm, a pest which costs farmers $1 billion to $2 billion each year.

And they're working with university partners to develop agricultural solutions to environmental challenges. Just last week, USDA awarded nearly $20 million to research teams led by the University of Wisconsin and Oklahoma State University. These teams of university researchers will study the impacts of weather and climate on cattle. They'll work toward solutions that sustainably improve dairy and beef production, while protecting the environment.

These are just a few examples of many USDA research projects that are ongoing right now. Our scientists are busy still today unlocking plant and animal genomes to keep our farmers producing the tomatoes, corn and wheat that the world eats. Their work on genetics helps identify valuable traits like insect and disease resistance, or improved environmental characteristics, like drought tolerance.

They are looking at the most important issues in agriculture -- looking at how we use resources, and finding ways to increase efficiency -- while developing new products for the future of the biobased economy. All together, these projects provide important economic benefits for our nation, with every dollar invested in agricultural research returning $20 to our economy.

From nutrition -- to renewable energy -- to food safety and beyond, USDA scientists are working hard every day to grow the economy and ensure an abundant, affordable U.S. food supply.

This year, we need a comprehensive, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will allow important research to continue, strengthen American agriculture and create more good jobs in rural America.

Tom Vilsack is U.S. secretary of agriculture.

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