AMES, Iowa — Senator Joni Ernst met recently with agricultural scientists at Iowa State University and industry leaders to discuss how public support for agricultural research and development (R&D) can strengthen national security.
The Sept. 2 event, which included a tour of Iowa State agricultural research facilities and a roundtable discussion, covered how greater food security overseas leads to political stability and better economic growth in developing countries, creating new trading partners with the U.S. Participants included Senator Joni Ernst; Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen; Katie Lee, Vice President of Government Affairs at Farm Journal Foundation; Iowa farmer Larry Sailer; and a number of leading researchers from the university. The event was organized and co-hosted by Iowa State University and Farm Journal Foundation.
“The world is facing some of the biggest challenges to food security we have seen in our lifetime,” said Senator Ernst, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “The innovative agricultural research happening at Iowa State University is vital to finding the necessary solutions to combat global hunger. Ultimately food security is national security, and I will continue my work to support efforts in agricultural research and development.”
Today, our global food system is under significant pressure from challenges such as the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and extreme weather events. Global hunger is rising, and high food costs are putting a strain on consumers in the U.S. and around the world. Food insecurity and high food prices can lead to instability, especially in developing countries where crop yields are lower and infrastructure is less developed. However, agricultural R&D can help make food systems more resilient, driving innovations that can increase crop yields, preserve natural resources, and enable farmers to adapt to changing weather patterns.
“The challenges we are seeing today, and the resulting impact on food prices and global hunger, should be a wake up call that we need to invest more in agricultural research and development,” said Katie Lee, the Vice President of Government Affairs at Farm Journal Foundation. “Agricultural innovation will be absolutely vital going forward, as we see increasing food demand from growing global populations and more strain on our natural resources.”
The event included a tour of Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center, the largest public seed testing laboratory in the world. The center is capable of testing over 300 different plant varieties for hundreds of diseases and pathogens, helping identify and respond to food system threats. Following the tour, a roundtable discussion with Senator Ernst included Iowa State University researchers from various agriculture-related fields.
“Agricultural research and innovation like that happening at Iowa State University impacts nearly every major societal challenge, but this area of science has been massively underfunded for decades,” said Wendy Wintersteen, President of Iowa State University. “Increasing our national investment in agricultural research is vital to support the public good and ensure our country’s leadership and competitiveness.”
Agricultural research done in the public sector, such as that being conducted at Iowa State, has an important role to play in strengthening global food security and U.S. national security. While private sector research investments have had a significant impact, particularly on yields for large commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, the public sector can support early stage research to pave the way for significant long-term innovations. Public investment can also support crop markets with smaller planted acres nationally, such as wheat and rice, as well as comparatively under-explored areas of animal health, environmental, and food safety research.
Agricultural research has one of the highest returns of any public investment, returning on average $17 in benefits for every $1 invested. Yet today, China and Brazil now outspend the U.S. on public funding for agricultural research, threatening America’s competitive advantage in agriculture, according to a recent report commissioned by Farm Journal Foundation and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Agriculture is the first building block of any economy, so maintaining a vibrant and innovative farming sector is absolutely critical to lift people out of poverty, build strong economies, and eliminate hunger,” said Larry Sailer, an Iowa farmer and a Farmer Ambassador with Farm Journal Foundation. “A hungry person is not a peaceful person. National security for all countries depends on less hunger.”
— Farm Journal Foundation