MOUNT JOY, Pa. — U.S. Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson met today with farmers and agricultural thought leaders for a farm tour highlighting the importance of agricultural research.
The event, held at Brubaker Farms dairy farm in Mount Joy, also included Dr. Rick Roush, Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University; Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert; Bob DeSousa, State Director for Senator Pat Toomey; Tim Kurt, Scientific Program Director at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR); and David Hong, Director of Government Affairs at the Farm Journal Foundation.
Luke Brubaker, who owns and operates the farm with his sons and grandson, highlighted how research is being applied at the farm level to help farmers become more profitable and sustainable. Brubaker Farms has put in place a number of energy efficiency practices, including installing solar panels and building a state-of-the-art methane digester that converts cow manure into electricity for the local community. The farm also uses good conservation practices to protect local water supplies, such as planting trees and grass buffers around streams that run through the property.
“Brubaker Farms is a perfect example of agricultural ingenuity and problem solving,” Congressman Thompson said. “It was a pleasure to tour the facility with Luke Brubaker to learn more about the technology he has implemented to bolster sustainability and food security.”
Congressman Thompson’s visit showcased the vital importance of agricultural research to farmers and the economy in Pennsylvania, where agriculture is a $7.76 billion industry, with more than 90,000 producers statewide.
Keeping Farms Resilient Against Challenges
The COVID-19 global pandemic underscores the need for increased long-term support for agricultural research, said Rick Roush, Dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Today, the U.S. farm economy is in the worst shape since the 1980s, with challenges on multiple fronts – extreme weather, low prices, strained trade relationships, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is wreaking havoc on farm and food supply chains. Agricultural research can help farmers become more productive, profitable and sustainable, making them more resilient against a myriad of risks.
“COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for our society around ag literacy,” Dean Roush said. “It has resulted in significant disruptions within our food supply chain and revealed weak links that leave the nation vulnerable. Without food, fiber, and energy, a lot of other problems suddenly become less relevant.”
Roush continued, “U.S. agriculture is dependent on federal investment in research to remain competitive, and these investments have significantly decreased in real dollars over time. Research is the cornerstone of Penn State, and our college is very successful in competing for grant funding, bringing in more than $60 million each year.”
“In fact, our college was the top recipient, among all land-grant universities, of National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant funds over the past four years,” Roush said. “That is good for Pennsylvania, agriculture and our college. Because of these investments, the college was able to successfully pivot to assist agriculture and the rural economy in Pennsylvania and other states in the region to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.”
High Return on Investment
Agricultural research has one of the highest returns of any public investment, estimated at $20 to every $1 spent, according to studies or research conducted at the University of Minnesota. Yet U.S. public spending on agricultural research has been stagnating. Today, China, India, and Brazil are outspending the U.S. on public agricultural research by a factor of 2.33 to 1.
“Advances made possible by scientific research help farmers work more efficiently, improve food quality and safety, better care for our animals, and do more to protect the environment and natural resources,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert, a dairy farmer in Western Pennsylvania. “That’s why Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has long advocated for appropriately funding agriculture research programs at Penn State and other institutions. Penn State research has helped Pennsylvania farmers tackle new challenges – such as combatting the invasive spotted lanternfly and reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed – and adapt to changing times so we can continue to produce safe and high-quality food for our communities and the world.”
Feeding the World
Technologies developed in the U.S. can also benefit small-scale farmers in developing countries who struggle to feed themselves. Global hunger is on the rise after decades of progress. The latest figures estimate that almost 690 million people were undernourished in 2019, an increase of 60 million over the last five years. The COVID-19 global pandemic could force as many as 130 million more people into chronic hunger, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
“Now is the time to double down on research to help protect livelihoods and global food system and prevent the next zoonotic disease from reaching the U.S.,” said David Hong, Director of Government Affairs at the Farm Journal Foundation. “This would also help create new trade opportunities for U.S. farmers.”
Today’s event was organized by the Farm Journal Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving global food security by sustaining modern agriculture’s leadership role and ability to meet the vital needs of a growing population.
–Whitney McFerron, Farm Journal Foundation