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Chairman Roberts Hears from Ag Research Institutions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing, titled, “Agricultural Research: Perspectives on Past and Future Successes for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Click here to watch Chairman Roberts' opening statement.

This is the fourth hearing in preparation for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. Witnesses included the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Kansas State University, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, and Wellman Farms.

To provide input for the Senate Agriculture Committee’s consideration for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization, click here. The link will be active for five business days after the hearing.

Below are Chairman Roberts’ remarks, as prepared for delivery:                                                                                        

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to order.

Someone once said, “…[T]oday American agriculture is in the grip of a technological revolution as vast and as rapid as any in history. It is a revolution, which has made the American farmer the most efficient in history. It has made his productivity the marvel and envy of every nation…Experts from all over the world come to see our farms, to study our techniques, and learn our methods. And the farm technology we have developed here in the United States holds out hope to the world for the first time that no man, woman, or child on earth needs to go hungry again.”

These words are as accurate today as they were in the past, when said by then President John F. Kennedy.

Times are tough in farm country, and research is indeed the backbone that drives agricultural change, efficiencies, and productivity. 

And the U.S must continue leading the charge to feed a growing population of 9.7 billion by 2050. 

Discretionary spending on the Research, Education and Economics mission area at USDA has remained fairly flat for the past six years. And yet, budgets are getting even tighter here in Washington. However, we must continue to focus on agricultural research.

In February of this year, we kicked off the Farm Bill process by holding a field hearing in Manhattan, KS, at Kansas State University.

At that hearing we heard from a variety of agriculture stakeholders about what they want to see in the next Farm Bill reauthorization.

But, that day didn’t just include the hearing.

My day started at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center where I toured the research laboratories and a greenhouse, spoke with some of the Center’s scientists, and observed cutting edge research that will help keep our wheat growers as the most efficient and productive in the world.

The Kansas Wheat Innovation Center is just one example of why the United States produces the safest, most affordable, and abundant food and fiber in the world. 

In 2012, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the United States Department of Agriculture. That same year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which established the U.S. Land-Grant College system. I add that Kansas State University was the first land-grant institution created under that Act.

Because of the early investment U.S. leaders made in agriculture research and extension efforts, our producers are better equipped to manage through droughts, disease, floods, fires, and a great deal more that Mother Nature throws at them.

Today, there are additional challenges. Farmers are combatting new pests and diseases, and unpredictable weather patterns. Livestock producers rely on best management practices supported by accurate data and information to continually improve their production efficiencies. At the same time, scientists must work to ensure consumers have accurate, science-based information regarding the nutritional benefits in foods that consumers are demanding. 

My colleagues, we have our work cut out for us with this Farm Bill reauthorization. 

We will need to find ways to do more with less, to reduce burdens of over-regulation, and ask tough questions as we reexamine programs to determine their effectiveness and if they are serving their intended purpose.

Strong public-private partnerships have been the cornerstone of U.S. agricultural research.

Senator Stabenow and I were the original cosponsors of a bill that became the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Foundation represents an opportunity to partner with the private sector and generate new funding streams in light of budgetary constraints in order to carry out bold and innovative agricultural research. This innovation should build upon and complement existing research at USDA.

I look forward to hearing more this morning about how the Foundation has used the seed funding Congress provided to leverage additional resources that produce results.

I also look forward to hearing from leaders at the Department, our universities, and producers about research priorities for the next Farm Bill.

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to take stock in where we have come from, and discuss where we are going in agricultural research.

Through the leadership of the USDA in setting priorities, the federal funding at our universities, and the investment of the public sector, I am optimistic about our future and overcoming the challenges that lie ahead.