To remain competitive in the long term, every business must embrace the latest technology, apply the most productive strategies and employ the latest tools. For U.S. agriculture, that means robust research needs to continue at a brisk pace.

The United States has a rich history of support for agricultural research. In 1862, the Morrill Act provided grants of land and money to state colleges, whose main objective was to advance the science and understanding of agriculture and associated disciplines. About 25 years later, the Hatch Act established agricultural experiment stations. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act started agricultural extension services so vital today in making the latest information available to farmers.

That meant that the findings and improvements from the brightest minds in agriculture could be shared by all. With a research infrastructure like that, it’s no wonder the United States became the world’s leader in agriculture.

Unfortunately, agriculture is no longer winning the financial backing of law makers or the commitment of legislators that had elevated it to the most important industry in our country. Now, agricultural research is waning and it’s a trend we must come to grips with before consequences are too great for us and the world that relies on our leadership for food production.

Lawmakers today do not see the need for research. “Because U.S. residents pay less than 10 percent of our incomes on food, many lawmakers in Washington ask, “why should we spend money on making food cheaper when we’re already producing the most food at the cheapest rate?”, says pork industry consultant Mike Brumm. “So, they are decreasing support for production agriculture.”

The United States can no longer support the commitment to ag research that has made us a world leader. “The infrastructure for research that producers can take home and implement on their own operations is in serious decline,” Brumm warns.

Dwindling state budgets further complicate matters. Some universities are no longer replacing retiring agriculture teachers and researchers.

One result of the decline in research funding that currently threatens U.S. agriculture is the growth of privately funded research programs. Naturally, the group that finances the research will be reluctant to share it with the general community.

This trend will lead to two developments:

1. Eventual decline in the competitiveness of those producers who do not become a member of the production systems that are investing in research.
2. A need for increased research budgets by individual industry associations with the intent to share results with their constituents.

Because only about 2 percent of America’s population is involved in agriculture, it is unlikely the trend of declining ag research will change soon. Those who are in charge of the national purse strings are rarely elected, or unseated, by such a small voting bloc.

Increasingly, agricultural research will be for private businesses who pay the bill to develop answers and solutions that support advancement.

For years, the United States found investing in agricultural research was a priority. We also found that it was a very good investment both here and abroad. Unfortunately, it is no longer the priority in once was.

By Rick Jordahl, Associate Editor, Pork Magazine