As a poultry farmer, I was worried when avian flu began popping up around the country last year. Almost 50 million birds were culled in an effort to limit the outbreak, even though only slightly more than 200 birds were actually sick.
 
Since I also raise cattle on my land, I was concerned in 2014, when a single case of mad cow disease was discovered in Texas. The disease was isolated and eliminated, however, and our food supply was protected.
 

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That’s what it’s like to be a farmer. Taking care of our animals is our top priority, but we have every-day worries that go beyond providing our animals access to feed, water and shelter. While we do our best to prepare for what we can control, we also want to be ready for the uncertainties that are thrown our way.
 
Whether our challenge of the day stems from a new government edict that affects how we farm, another nation’s decision to ban our products or an unforeseen disease outbreak, there is really only one solution on which we hang our collective hat – cold, hard science.
 
Research has helped us increase yields, decrease inputs, and ward off plant and animal diseases. Research has made us more productive on fewer acres and has decreased our environmental footprint. This supports the fact that U.S. families spend a lower percentage of their incomes on food than citizens in any other nation.
 
But times are changing. The expiration date for the scientific findings that underpin our day-to-day work and boost the quality of life for all Americans is fast approaching. And you don’t need a PhD to see that.
 
Take avian flu, which laid havoc to Iowa’s egg industry last year. Killing tens of millions of birds because several hundred contracted the flu may seem like an overreaction, but it was the only way we knew how to stop the disease before it reached the “broiler belt” in the South. We need a more effective and modern way of ending these outbreaks.
 
Scientists at Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati are answering this challenge by analyzing the flu virus and how it jumps from poultry to people to pigs. This collaboration, funded by the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), is one of many exploring new ways to better identify and control future outbreaks.
 
AFRI is a relatively new program. Its grant proposals are developed by potential researchers and reviewed and ranked by an expert board. The program’s current budget, however, sits at $350 million—half of what Congress authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill—and as a result, only a small portion of the best research projects get funded.
 
The administration has proposed doubling AFRI’s budget to fund the program at the level authorized by Congress.  To farmers, this feels like a good move. We need to find immediate answers to challenges like citrus greening. We also need to make sure researchers can fight the bugs that will eat into our yields 10 years from now. And we need advanced technologies to keep foodborne bacteria from reaching people’s plates.
 
Agricultural scientists can take on these challenges, but they need support. In the past 10 years, the total budget for all of the USDA’s research programs has grown by only 0.2 percent. In the same timeframe, the Department of Energy’s research budget has grown by 23 percent.
 
I am all for keeping the lights on in the dining room, but the American people also need a steady supply of safe and healthy food for the dinner table.
 
Every dollar spent on agricultural research generates $20 for our economy, and we see those returns in safer, more nutritious and more plentiful food. But I also see those returns in a quite personal way—in fewer worries for my fellow farmers and me. We’re in a difficult time right now—prices are down, costs are up—and we need all the solutions science can discover. Publicly-supported research pays dividends to all Americans, and it is an investment we all must embrace.

 Duvall, a third generation farmer from Greene County, Georgia, was elected President of the American Farm Bureau Federation in January, 2016.