Friday, March 02, 2007

Should ASA/CSSA/SSSA Support the Creation of a National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA?

In the July issue of the CSA News, I wrote about the FY 2007 agriculture spending bill and how the increases slated by the House for formula funds and the NRI don’t amount to much in the way of new research funding opportunities for our scientists/sciences. As a comparison, I asked the reader to consider the increases being sought for the National Science Foundation: in his 07 budget for NSF, President Bush requested $6.02 billion, a 7.9% increase! Finally, I submitted that if current trends for ag research funding hold, we should not expect to make much headway in the coming years with either extramural research accounts supported by USDA Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)—formula funding, NRI and Integrated (sec 406)—or Agricultural Research Service (ARS) intramural accounts. A possible solution to stagnant funding for ag research was then offered: new legislation, S 2782, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Act of 2006 (NIFA), introduced May 10, by Senators Kit Bond (R-Missouri), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Jim Talent (R-Missouri), which would establish the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide funding for the support of fundamental agricultural research of the highest quality. The legislation would place NIFA outside of the USDA-Research, Economics and Education mission area, as a separate institute answerable only to the Secretary.*Should the agricultural community support NIFA?*Where do our scientists plan on getting funding for their research projects 5,10, and 20 years into the future?*Given that the NRI, which was created around 1990 and authorized at $500 million, has reached a high in funding of only $181 million during the past 16 years, can current funding mechanisms provide adequate funding for our programs?*I recommend that ASA, CSSA and SSSA support NIFA. How can we tell these Senators that they do not have the support of the agriculture community? What are our alternatives?*Please air your thoughts, concerns, disagreements, and suggestions. My office needs your input so we know how to take action! Thanks, Karl


Anonymous said...

This could bode ill for natural resources research within USDA-- at the expense of more traditional agriculture research. Forestry research and particularly forest soils research would become a neglected part of the new institute, I suspect.

I also find it unlikely that a consolidated National Institute for Ag Research will achivieve "parity" with NIH or NSF any time soon.

Phillip Small said...

The creation of a National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA could be instrumental in increasing research funding in critical areas. Capitalizingon its higher level of visibility, with the right leadership and demonstrated public support, there is no good reason why it would end up resulting in less funding for forest soil research, or other non-food areas of USDA. If anything, it would lay the groundwork for more funding in those areas. From what I know about the proposal, I support it.

Anonymous said...

The creation of a NIFA by any version of legislation currently proposed would be a travesty. CREATE-21 especially, would completely gut the in-house research within USDA. It sole purposes (if you read the bill carefully) are to: 1) shift all future federal research funding increases in favor of universities (32% of any increase)with only 11% of new money going to in-house research. These levels would not even pay for the upkeep of federal research facilities. 2) open up indirect cost caps on competitive grants (from the current 19% to full DOD negotiated rates... approximately in the range of 34-68%). All this money would simply go to the Ag Deans and would not in reality be available for research. and 3) repeal any and all accountability on the part of universities for their formula funding. Yes, the Bill actually waives all peer review requirements associated with formula funds. There may indeed be problems with the weakness of integration between research, education and extension in Agriculture, but if folks want to fix these problems we need to put more responsibilities on the recipients of these moneys...not less. We also need to protect the strong research capabilities that exist within USDA's in-house research agencies. Moving the majority of all funding into competitive grants will only reduce the continuity we will be able to apply towards long-term, high-risk research needs. If you want to increase research dollars to both in-house and out-house programs...fine...but split the money equally and make provision for continuity. We must also put specifics into any proposed Bill that would delineate exactly HOW the university and in-house research would be integrated. Don't leave this to any group of Deans or Administrators! I also doubt seriously that pulling NIFA out of USDA (as is proposed in CREATE-21) will increase our chances of getting more money. Will Congress then put NIFA in the same Appropriations Committee with NSF? If so, I expect we will get the short end of that stick. If we want more funding, I think we'd be better served to: 1) stop asking for formula funding and replace that with specific research projects, 2)start working together to integrate our activities, 3) plan for and implement activities that enhance cooperation, and 4) stop building individual empires and competing against one another!