Make no mistake, I think getting money for ag is a good thing, and the federal Specialty Crop Block Grant system is a faucet of funding for which thanks should be given.
But when I see those big grants for the recent round -- $4.8 million for Washington and Oregon – it makes me wonder how long the spigot will spout given today's anti-ag actions and the precariousness of the next Farm Bill.
What wonders the grant performs, particularly when you consider more than $1 million of the new outlay went to Washington State University as a stopgap to state budget support cuts. It gives me confidence ag will not become the forgotten industry as the heavy wheels of the trim, squeeze and cut steamroller powers on.
Nothing is certain. Everything changes. Even Nicole and Tom broke up, and Arnold and Maria are deciding who gets the Humvee and who gets the big screen.
So if you think Specialty Crop Grants will be around until the end of time, perhaps it is time to think about alternatives to fund those projects just in case. And, if this program – which is supposed to give other crops the program boosts provided the commodities – goes south, industry once again finds itself needful to tug at its own bootstraps.
Much good stuff is happening in industry regarding self-sustainability. Big dollars are going to research, help money is being dispensed from co-op banks to drought victims, and sectors like the Washington fruit industry are thinking in terms of tens of millions of dollars to fund university studies.
That attrition needed to occur, but do we see how far it yet has to go? Dare to dream up far more participation by business in the future.
Dismal as the thought may be, I like to harp on the tithe factor for ag research. Growers and industry must consider a percentage of their annual expenses to be set aside to pay for the new science we'll need to maintain our leadership in world ag technology.
They call it "collaboration" down at the university, but it means really that industry must come to the front row in paying for all that lab and field work. New ag deans are hired chiefly on how well they can do tapping business for support. It is an essential ingredient of life at the farm school today, so listen for that knock on the door opened to your favorite soil scientist or irrigation agent standing there holding out a hat for dollars.
Sustainability is, after all, all about money. If you have it, you can run a nice, environmentally-friendly farm. Without it, wheat fields turn to dust and the food factory becomes a habitat of rodents and tumbling weeds.
Sustainability – an overworked and ambiguous word – must somehow be linked to the new tools research can send over to us. Ergo, dropping a C-note into the think tank piggy bank equates to our success.
Time to put a check in the hat for science.