Wheat in Oklahoma.

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Advocates celebrate funding bump for USDA-funded research

Farm science advocates had some success this year in boosting federal funding for the discipline.

The 2018 spending bill approved by Congress this week gives a slight but meaningful boost to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) research accounts—including its competitive grants program for universities and other institutions.

The bill gives a $25 million, 6.7% increase, to $400 million, to USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Advocates have been pushing Congress to increase AFRI’s budget for years, and they welcomed this year’s number—while noting it still falls short of a $700 million goal for AFRI once set by Congress. The increase is “a good move” given “the context of the very scarce resources,” says Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. Overall, AFRI funding has climbed by nearly 25% in the past 3 years, he notes.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s in-house research agency, saw a nearly 3% increase, to $1.2 billion. The increase is yet another case where Congress disregarded a dramatic proposed cut in President Donald Trump’s budget request, which would have stripped 15% from ARS funding.

Now, advocates for agricultural science are looking ahead to the 2019 funding fight, with hopes of replicating the biomedical research community’s success in winning big budget increases. “If the university community would come forward with a prioritized set of asks [for agricultural research] that the scientific community had validated,” Grumbly says, “it would be easier to lift all the boats.”