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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Agricultural Research

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing entitled “Agricultural Research: Perspectives on the Past and Future Successes for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you Senator Roberts for holding this very important hearing.

I’d also like to thank our expert witnesses for being here today to discuss the importance of agricultural research, education, and extension.

I’ve always said that we don’t have an economy unless we make things and grow things. That’s exactly what agricultural research helps us do.

Research initiatives included in the 2014 Farm Bill provide the tools and science that sustain Michigan agriculture, our state’s second largest industry that supports one-in-four jobs.

In fact, for every one dollar invested in agricultural research, more than 20 dollars is returned to the U.S. economy.

Michigan is home to the country’s pioneer land grant – my alma mater, Michigan State University.

The innovative work happening every day at land grant universities like Michigan State and other agricultural research institutions protects and improves our food system.

Land grant universities are unique in that they implement their research findings in communities through extension work.

The Morrill Act of 1862 created the land-grant university system with the mission to serve rural communities. Since that time, the United States has led the world in agricultural research.

However, over the past decade, we have seen China, India and Brazil significantly increase their investment in Ag research. China now has a 2-to-1 advantage over the U.S. in critical public investments to address emerging pests, disease, and extreme weather in the agricultural sector.

If we allow our country to slip behind in agricultural research, our farmers could lose their global competitiveness.

Now, more than ever, it is critical to invest in public research and support our world class agricultural research institutions that make our farms more productive and sustainable.

From innovative robotic technology to precision agriculture, our scientists are pushing the bounds of what’s possible to create new opportunities in agriculture.

In Michigan, we are famous for our wide variety of specialty crops – from our cherry trees and apple orchards, to our hop yards and wineries.

But many of these crops would not be thriving if it weren’t for targeted research investments like the Farm Bill’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative.

For example, Michigan has been the number one domestic producer of blueberries over the last 70 years, contributing more than $118 million to Michigan’s annual economy.

While it might be easy to find these nutritious berries in your grocery store, their widespread popularity is thanks, in part, to ag research.

Crops like blueberries have depended on innovative research to meet the changing needs of consumers and growers alike. Michigan State has developed some of the most widely planted varieties, with traits that work best for commercial production.

But it’s not just specialty crops that have seen benefits. We’re also growing jobs through research that strengthens the emerging bio-based economy.

The 2014 Farm Bill supports the farms that produce our energy crops and provides innovative technologies for renewable energy projects across the country.

Research breakthroughs have made it possible for bio-based products to enter the market, which contribute $393 billion to the U.S. economy and support over 4.2 million jobs.

Research is also critical to organic food production, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our food system.

U.S. retail sales for organic products have skyrocketed in the last decade, growing from $13 billion in 2005 to more than $43 billion today.

Exploration into this booming industry through the Organic Ag Research and Extension Initiative has enhanced the ability of organic producers to grow and market their goods and meet consumer demand, creating new jobs in every corner of the country.

Research is also our number one tool to protect our farms from threats to our food system. Every day, our farmers face new and emerging challenges posed by disease and invasive pests.

In Michigan, invasive species are destroying cherry harvests. In Florida, citrus greening is devastating orange groves. In Kansas, stripe rust has struck wheat farmers.

Our agricultural researchers are stepping up to the plate to address these challenges, but the need for more investment far exceeds current funding to tackle these threats.

That’s why in the last Farm Bill, Chairman Roberts and I worked together to create the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, which leverages public investments with private dollars to fund innovative research.

I’m thrilled to see some representatives from the Foundation here today to update us on their progress and provide a roadmap for future success.

We owe so many of our accomplishments in agriculture to the scientists who conduct groundbreaking research. Each day, they are paving the path forward for our farmers and food businesses.

That’s why it is astounding to me that in 2017, we are having national debates over scientific facts.

I am not afraid to say that I believe in science because science is the basis of all that we do on this Committee.

Science-based agricultural research is good for our farmers, good for our consumers, and good for our economy.

As we look ahead to the next Farm Bill, I believe agricultural research should be one of the great bipartisan victories. I will continue to support research and defend the integrity of the scientific process that makes this work possible.

Thank you.