Farm Bill and You

At first glance, you may think that the Farm Bill is focused on…well…farms. Though you wouldn’t be wrong, this is just one of the many ways that the Farm Bill impacts our lives. For instance, it funds conservation, energy, trade, and rural development. In fact, its single largest program (SNAP) provides nutrition assistance for over 40 million Americans.

The Farm Bill also serves as an engine for scientific innovation, establishing a broad suite of research, education, and extension programs aimed at improving the lives of consumers and farmers alike.

The Farm Bill sets our nation’s agricultural policy for four to five years. The legislation is written by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, passed by Congress, and signed into law by the President.

Congress is currently working on the next Farm Bill to replace the 2014 version which is set to expire on September 30, 2018.

Within the Farm Bill, there are “titles” covering specific topics, including research. The 2014 Farm Bill’s “Research Title” established numerous research programs addressing every facet of agricultural science, from cutting-edge fundamental research, to applied research, to direct outreach through extension.

The Farm Bill authorizes the extramural research programs overseen through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). These programs provide the “capacity” and “competitive” research grants to universities (and other institutions) featured throughout FedByScience that enable our food system to thrive.

The Farm Bill funds research in two ways. In some cases, the legislation provides direct - or “mandatory” - funding for programs to receive on an annual basis (e.g. SCRI, OREI) or as a lump sum (e.g. FFAR). In most cases, however, the Farm Bill sets – or “authorizes” – a maximum amount of “discretionary” funding that a program can receive. The actual amount of “discretionary” funding these programs receive is determined annually through congressional legislation based on recommendations from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

In FY 2017, NIFA had $160 million in “mandatory” research program funding, compared to $1,375 million in “discretionary” funding. Most research programs receive less than the amount “authorized” by the Farm Bill. For example, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – a NIFA competitive grants program – is “authorized” by the Farm Bill for $700 million, but received $400 million in actual dollars for FY 2018.

The U.S. is falling behind on agricultural research. China surpassed our nation in public agricultural research in 2009, and today is outspending the U.S. by nearly 2:1. Where in 1974 the U.S. spent nearly 6% of its R&D budget on agriculture, this amount has declined to less than 4% today. As a result, outstanding university researchers who stand ready to help our nation meet the challenges of the 21st century are left unsupported.

The Farm Bill lays the foundation for our nation’s agricultural research programs and funding. Because of this, it is crucial that the House and Senate Agriculture Committee hear a clear message from you: “Make agricultural research a priority in the next Farm Bill.”