FY 2015 requests to USDA


Below are the written requests for 2015 funding submitted to the US Senate subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, & Related Agencies submitted by RAFI’s Just Foods Director Michael Sligh on behalf of 58 organizations and businesses.

Written Statement on FY 2015 Requests Submitted to Subcommittee
on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, & Related Agencies Senate Committee on Appropriations April 4, 2014

Contact: Michael Sligh, [email protected], 919-542-1396
Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA
274 Pittsboro Elementary School Road, Pittsboro, North Carolina 27312

Thank you for the opportunity to present our FY 2015 funding requests. The Seeds and Breeds for the 21st Century Coalition is a national network of non-profit, public, and private researchers, advocacy organizations, agricultural businesses, seed companies and individual farmers that advocates for policies and funding that support and advance classical public breeding research programs and germplasm infrastructure in order to protect agricultural genetic diversity and address long-term challenges to agriculture such as climate change and global food security.

The following organizations and businesses wish to be associated with this testimony:

Albert Lea Seed House, American Sustainable Business Council, Amy’s Kitchen, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Ben and Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., Botanical Interests, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Callicrate Cattle Company, Center for Rural Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Cuatro Puertas, Dakota Rural Action, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Friends of Family Farmers, Green America, Hawai’i Public Seed Initiative, Mercaris, Inc., Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, Kansas Rural Center, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, National Center for Appropriate Technology, National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition; National Hmong American Farmers; National Organic Coalition; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Northern Plains Resource Council, Northeast Organic Farming Association – Massachusetts, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, National Young Farmers Coalition, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Nature’s Path Foods, Inc., Non GMO Project, Organic Seed Alliance; Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Organic Trade Association; Organization for Competitive Markets, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Prairie Seeds, R- CALF, Ranch Foods Direct, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, Seed Matters, Seed Savers Kansas City, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Sow True Seeds, Straus Family Creamery, Tilth Producers of Washington, Tomato Fest Organic Heirloom Seed, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Natural Foods, Inc., Virginia Association of Biological Farming, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Wild Garden Seeds, Women, Food and Agriculture Network, and Wood Prairie Farm.

Our USDA requests are as follows:

National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)
Request: Report language on public cultivar development.

In recent decades, public resources for cultivar development have dwindled, while resources have shifted toward genomics and biotechnology, with a focus on a limited set of major crops. This problem has been particularly acute for organic and sustainable farmers, who seek access to germplasm well suited to their unique cropping systems and their changing local environments and climates.

In Section 7406 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, the National Research Initiative was merged with the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems to become the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Congress included language within AFRI to make “conventional” plant and animal breeding a priority for AFRI research grants, consistent with the concerns expressed by the Appropriations Committee in preceding appropriations cycles.

Unfortunately, USDA has been slow to follow the classical breeding directives of the 2008 Farm Bill and the repeated appropriations report language. We are requesting report language to reiterate that the funding for classical plant and animal breeding should be a priority area within the AFRI process, and urging USDA to focus on public cultivar development as a distinct priority within AFRI. Specifically, we are urging inclusion of the following report language:

Section 7406 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 specifies priority areas within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative [AFRI], including an emphasis on conventional (classical) plant and animal breeding. The Committee notes the importance of this requirement, to provide farmers nationwide with greater access to cultivars that are locally and regionally adapted to their soils, climates and farming systems. Because of the agency’s lack of progress in prioritizing this effort within the AFRI program, the Committee urges the agency to make regionally adapted, public-held cultivar development a distinct funding priority with AFRI for Fiscal Year 2015, and requests a report from the agency as to its progress in meeting this goal.

Agriculture Research Service (ARS)
Genetic Improvement and Translational Breeding Initiative
Request: $25.9 million, with report language directing the funding to
the development and release of regionally adapted, public cultivars.

Public resources for classical plant and animal breeding have dwindled in recent decades, and as a result, our capacity for public breeding is at a critical point. While USDA’s statutory obligation to address this problem through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grant program remains strong, ARS also has an obligation in this regard, and has historically been an essential federal research partner in conducting long-term agricultural research. Although ARS has the resources and expertise to help reverse this dangerous trend, the agency must increase its efforts in this regard.

The Administration’s FY 2015 budget requests the reallocation of $25.9 million for a new Genetic Improvement and Translational Breeding Initiative to be administered by ARS. As described, the initiative appears to be a disjointed mix of classical and genomic research without clear direction. Given the huge private and public investment in genomics, and the dangerous dearth in funding for classical breeding for public cultivar development, we are urging that clear language be included to direct ARS to focus all of the funding provided for this initiative on the development and release of regionally adapted, publicly held, cultivars to benefit farmers and ranchers across the country.

Farmer access to regionally adapted seeds and breeds is paramount to fostering the competitiveness of agriculture in all regions of the U.S. As agricultural research has shifted toward an emphasis on lab-based and molecular breeding, seed choice has not kept up with demand, and the diversity of our plant genetic resources has narrowed. Farmers need access to seeds that are bred specifically for their regions and cropping systems. In particular, farmers lament limited cultivar options in major crops, especially publicly held cultivars released by land grant universities that are adapted to regional farming needs to satisfy the national market. By improving agricultural productivity and resilience, classical breeding also improves food security for our growing population.

Classical plant and livestock breeding is a proven science and is highly cost-effective when compared with other breeding approaches. It is our most successful and benign approach to crop improvement, accounting for about half of our dramatic food and fiber crop yield increases throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. Classical breeding, using field-based selection, complements newer forms of breeding and fills important roles that lab-based approaches, such as genomics, are not well suited to. Lab-based breeding has value, and may become more important as these technologies improve, but cannot be relied upon currently or in the foreseeable future to fulfill many breeding needs.

Thank you for your consideration of these requests.

Michael Sligh

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