Milling, baking reps meet to discuss ag funding cuts

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Thirty-five individuals representing the wheat industry, including a dozen wheat growers and 10 milling and baking representatives, are meeting to tell Congress there is no more to cut from federal funding for agriculture research.

The message is part of an annual event sponsored by the National Wheat Improvement Committee, a group of wheat scientists and stakeholders, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the North American Millers’ Association and the American Bakers Association.

Several key facts were expected to be shared with policy makers as part of the two-day event, which is set for March 27-28, including:

• Funding for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be down 12% since the federal government’s 2010 fiscal year, assuming modest increases proposed in the Obama administration’s FY2013 budget are adopted.
• In fiscal 2011, $180 million was cut and not restored due to the elimination of earmarked spending.
• University researchers recently learned that funding they receive from the A.R.S. would be cut by 30% to help cover costs associated with carrying out Congress’ instructions to close 12 laboratories.
• Only 1.6% of the $142 billion annual federal investment in research goes to agriculture research, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“As a farmer and a seedsman, my message to our leaders in Washington is that a good crop doesn’t start when I put it in the ground, it starts 10 years before, in my state wheat breeder’s labs and fields,” said Bing Von Bergen, a wheat farmer from Moccasin, Mont., and NAWG’s first vice-president. “Funding for wheat research, and all ag research, is an investment in the future of farming and the future of food.”

Participants also were expected to ask members to support the Obama administration’s requests for $1.103 billion in funding for the A.R.S. and $325 million in funding for the U.S.D.A.’s premier competitive grant programs, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Members of Congress also were to be asked to ensure reauthorization of the A.F.R.I. grant program and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, a collaboration of public, private and federal researchers fighting the disease Fusarium head blight, or scab.

“We’ve come to Washington, D.C., many times over the years, but this visit is particularly urgent,” said Brett Carver, a wheat breeder at Oklahoma State University and NWIC chair. “Research is a long-term process that needs long-term funding. We are seeing increased investments from private companies and farmers themselves, but federal agencies still play an irreplaceable role in ensuring we can develop the best possible varieties for farmers.”

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