Public investment in agricultural research is waning, a former Secretary of agriculture said Tuesday, but American academics still have the skills necessary to make the country a leader in solving food security challenges.
Dan Glickman, who served in President Clinton's cabinet, made the comments during a Heuermann Lectures panel at the University of Nebraska, discussing the topic "Regaining the U.S. Lead in Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Education."
The panel also featured Catherine Woteki, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics and Phil Pardey, professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Applied Economics.
Spending is stagnant
In 1980, the U.S. was the world's leader in public funding of agriculture, but beginning in about 2000, China began dramatically increasing its investment and has surpassed the U.S., Woteki said. Since then, Brazil and India also have increased research spending.
"This is not an arms race," Glickman said, noting that the extra investments in research are welcome. But the U.S. must stake a place in the effort to feed a population forecast to grow substantially by mid-century.
"We have the best scientists. We don't have to be doing all this work, but we have to be a leader," he said.
Despite the concern that the U.S. is lacking, Woteki said provisions in the farm bill will reverse the last few years' decline in ag research spending – but it must make it through Congress first. That's a sore spot for Glickman, who said the political debate is overshadowing real issues.