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AgARDA Can Spur Agricultural Innovation and Breakthroughs

This summer, Americans have experienced record heat waves as well as wildfires and extreme weather. And while the impact of these events has been felt across the country, America’s farmers have been on the frontline navigating challenges caused by these events. As the nation’s first and most dedicated environmentalists, farmers are responsible for delivering food and supplies to the United States and the rest of the world. With Congress scheduled to return to Washington DC in September, lawmakers should prioritize ways to help our farmers and unleash innovation across the agricultural industry. One program that can help accomplish these objectives is the ​​Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA). 

>>>READ: What the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Means for Ag Innovation and Progress

AgARDA was established by the 2018 Farm Bill to fill research gaps within the agricultural sector. The agency’s objective is to conduct important research that is not typically covered by the private sector. The three main overarching goals of AgARDA are:

  • Developing and deploying technologies that address challenges related to growing, harvesting, handling, processing, storage, packing, and distribution of agricultural products; 
  • Mitigating plant disease or plant pest countermeasures; 
  • Addressing veterinary countermeasures to intentional or unintentional biological threats. 

While the 2018 Farm Bill authorized $50 million to AgARDA, the agency has only received $2 million in federal funding.  As a result, there is currently no director or permanent staff that oversees the program, which has prevented AgARDA from taking steps to achieve its goals.

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Thankfully, some lawmakers are taking notice of AgARDA’s funding deficiencies. In March, Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Advancing Cutting Edge (ACE) Agriculture Act which would expand USDA programs to advance research and spur innovative solutions relating to drought, soil health, and extreme weather. On AgARDA, Sen. Marshall said:

“Reauthorization of AgARDA will allow the Department of Agriculture to partner with public research institutions on rewarding advanced research initiatives that preserves the United States’ role as a global agriculture leader amid a changing economic landscape.”

>>>READ: How Conservation Programs Make the Case for Conservatism

Once AgARDA is adequately funded, the program will follow the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) framework and strive to lead the world in advanced agricultural research. The Department of Defense’s DARPA and the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E provide a guiding structure for how AgARDA will succeed to yield greater and more impactful bodies of research. Emily Bass of the Breakthrough Institute explains why this structure is pivotal to seeing breakthroughs in innovation: 

As research programs get underway, AgARDA’s flexibility would allow researchers to move projects forward at a rapid pace while also allowing for priority changes along the way. As demonstrated by ARPA-E, program directors can monitor all projects within a program to identify ways for researchers to adapt or adjust priorities toward aspects of their projects with the most promise over the course of a research program.

Without AgARDA, much of this high-risk, advanced research will never be funded. Other USDA research programs—such as AFRI and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)—deliberately weed out risky projects. AgARDA will be able to take more fliers.

AgARDA could see enhanced funding through the 2023 Farm Bill, which is currently being negotiated and may see a price tag of $1.5 trillion, the most to date. With adequate funding, AgARDA could make agricultural and technological breakthroughs to help America’s farmers address challenges such as invasive species, drought, and extreme weather. Importantly, funding critical research and development will lower the cost of next-generation technologies and entice more private sector investment in the agriculture sector.

Research and development at the federal level is essential to addressing environmental challenges and making breakthroughs. AgARDA can strengthen American agriculture and support farmers as they adapt to higher temperatures and tougher growing conditions. As lawmakers look to shore up the next generation of U.S. agriculture, providing adequate funding to AgARDA is a good place to start.

Read more about AgARDA here or in C3’s R&D Policy Explainer.  

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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