Agricultural R&D, collaboration critical to American farmers’ futures

Agricultural R&D, collaboration critical to American farmers’ futures
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It’s no secret that U.S. agriculture is struggling right now.

Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that farm income will drop to around $62.3 billion this year, about half of what farmers earned in 2013. This will continue to have a significant impact on the sustainability of the American farm. In fact, a July Rural Mainstreet Index poll of rural bank CEOs in areas with large farm and energy economies found that that “due to weak farm income, almost one fourth of bankers reported rejecting a higher percentage of farmer loan applications and approximately 60.9 percent reported boosting collateral on farm loans.” 

At the same time, farmers are tasked with meeting the constant demand for more food. According to the University of Illinoistotal production of rice, wheat, soy and corn will need to rise 87 percent to meet a growing population by 2050. The demand for more food is rising at the same time that land is being developed for other uses besides farming. In fact, farmable land per capita could decline by an estimated 17 percent, as urban areas grow and weather changes our landscape.

Historically, farmers have been able to solve these problems by embracing new farming methods and technologies to increase productivity but a recent decrease in public funding, coupled with the news that the House Agriculture Committee is facing budget cuts of an estimated $10 billion, will greatly impact America’s farms. This is why private funding has been and will continue to be key to the future of agriculture. 

For instance, between 2008 and 2013, inflation-adjusted public food and agricultural R&D declined an estimated 20 percent, as private R&D increased by 64 percent. The private sector’s continued participation will be critical in discovering how to help American farmers maintain their position as the global leaders in the agricultural industry.

Leading ag companies will continue to see the value in investing in R&D and improving ag technologies to help our farmers succeed. Frequently, these new technologies face high regulatory hurdles in the U.S. and abroad. Consequently, these companies fight alongside American farmers for access to markets in Europe, Asia and elsewhere for crops grown here at home.

The cost of this innovation and regulatory acceptance often runs in the hundreds of millions, but this partnership continues to work, though it becomes more challenging every year. Opportunities to increase efficiency, like the recently approved Dow–Dupont merger and Bayer’s potential acquisition of Monsanto, allow more research collaboration that is essential to not only helping farmers solve their own critical issues, like increasing their yields and profitability, but also meeting the growing demand for more food.  

It is true that farmers in America are currently facing some of the most difficult market conditions seen in years. However, the way out of this slump is not maintaining a status quo that has left small farmers wondering how they will make ends meet year after year. The solution moving forward lies in seizing opportunities for advancement and innovation that can help farmers streamline their operations through new efficiencies that make the difficult business of farming more manageable.

While farmers are in a tough place right now, the future should look greener with the potential for more R&D and investment in agricultural solutions through greater collaboration among the leading agricultural companies.

Karolyn Zurn is the president of Minnesota Agri-Women. John Youngberg is the executive vice president of Montana Farm Bureau Federation.