American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Senate Hearing on Agriculture Research Funding

Hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
March 18, 1997

Witness List:
Mr. Robert Horsch, Director of Technology, Monsanto Corporation
Dr. David Ervin, Director of Policy Studies, Henry A Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture
Dr. Robert Cassens, Federation of American Societies of Food Animal Science
Dr. William McFee, President, American Society of Agronomy and member of Soil Science Society of America
Mr. Ron Rossman, Practical Farmers of Iowa

Senator Lugar, Committee Chair, began by setting forth his goal for the hearing -- to determine how best to evaluate and prioritize agricultural research.

Mr. Robert Horsch, Monsanto Corporation, testified that investments in agricultural research have immense returns, and "support from the federal government is vital" for these programs to continue. With the world's population increasing and putting a greater strain on food supply and wildlife habitat, crops must increase yield while decreasing waste, pollution, and cost. Competitive grants have been the most effective methods to utilize funds and are necessary for innovations to continue as the "private sector will not replace public sector research."

Dr. David Ervin, Henry A. Wallace Institute, had three recommendations to improve agricultural research for the committee. First, research accountability must be improved to a forward-looking system rather than a retrospective model. Second, agriculture must fully utilize the public goods that it can provide, such as minimizing nutrient runoff. Finally, successful extension programs need to be continued and expanded.

Dr. Robert Cassens, University of Wisconsin, agreed with Mr. Horsch that the competitive grant program plays a vital role in allocating funds. Additionally, he feels a pressing need to identify research priorities.

Dr. William McFee, American Society of Agronomy, illuminated the fact that agricultural research has doubled productivity in the last 50 years, a significant payoff. He too emphasized the importance of competitive grants, but also expressed his support for state formula grants. He identified genetic engineering and precision agriculture as two areas of high potential right now.

Mr. Ron Rossman provided a farmer's point of view, as he is a farmer from Iowa. He agreed with the overwhelming support for competitive grants and increasing research accountability. He shared how research conducted through on-farm trials helped him to grow all his crops organically, and wants to ensure that the benefits of research are reaching farmers.

During the questioning period, discussion focused on the great strides made in production over the last century and the possibility of future expansion. Addition debate continued on the effect of genetic engineering on the gene pool. Senator Harkin suggested making a goal for genetic engineering to increase biodiversity, while panelists saw diversity as a natural outcome.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated March 20, 1997

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