Renewal of the 2014 farm bill would provide non-land grant universities necessary funding to continue research and educational programs.
Members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, including chairman and Midland Rep. Michael Conaway, listed intently on Monday (July 31) as a packed house at Angelo State University delivered remarks regarding their concerns for the renewal of the 2014 farm bill, which expires in 2018.
The majority of those in the room were those most directly affected by the bill – farmers and their families, those who depend on agriculture for their own business ventures, and even future farmers who want to carry on a tradition that has been the backbone of this country for centuries.
But there also were individuals in the room touting the positive effects the farm bill has had on another aspect of agriculture – funding for research at non-land grant universities. That funding directly affects institutions around the country like Texas Tech University, the leading non-land grant college in the U.S. with regards to agriculture research.
The 2008 farm bill, reauthorized in 2014, authorized a program that allowed non-land grant universities access to funding to build their research programs; land grant universities had already received federal funding.
Michael Ballou, associate dean of research and an associate professor of nutrition, applied immunology and health in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (CASNR), reminded the committee of the importance of agriculture research not only to discovery but in providing the business a highly educated workforce.
"We would like to see reauthorization of the non-land grant capacity building program in 2018,” Ballou said. "Additionally, we would like to work with the committee on authorizing a new innovative program that non-land grant colleges of agriculture can leverage federal funds with local, state and private dollars to further invest in research at non-land grant colleges of agriculture.”
Steve Fraze, CASNR interim dean, said Texas Tech is in the upper third of all agricultural institutions in the U.S. in terms of both research and education, but is at a disadvantage when it comes to federal research dollars due to its non-land grant status. That is why having a renewed farm bill with the program providing research money for non-land grant universities is vital.
"One of the major issues is that combined, land grant and non-land grant universities are not producing enough graduates to meet the demand needed in the agricultural sector,” Fraze said. "One solution is to increase the capacity of the non-land grant universities.”
Texas Tech is one of the nation's leading universities when it comes to cotton research and has been strengthened in that pursuit by its partnerships with companies such as Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and Dow. Eric Hequet, a Horn Professor and chairman of the Department of Plant and Soil Science, said that research is crucial to improve the competitiveness of all segments of the cotton sector (production, textile manufacturing, cotton seed oil and proteins). Cotton is facing increasing competition from both man-made fibers such as polyester and foreign production of cotton.
But partnering with private industry is not enough. Federal funding for the Texas Tech University International Cotton Research Center ended a few years ago, and even though the research continued by partnering with private industry, federal funding is necessary to continue cotton research and improve infrastructure.
"To remain competitive, incremental changes may not be sufficient,” Hequet said. "Drastic improvements in fiber quality are needed both to better compete with foreign growth of cotton and polyester, but also to bring back textile manufacturing in the U.S. In addition, water-related issues demand the development of strong research programs on irrigation, stress tolerance, rotation, soil fertility and sustainability.”
Hequet added research is also needed in terms of protecting plants from disease and invasive species of insects.
"Texas, and specifically Texas Tech, is uniquely placed to develop the research and education needed to keep our industry competitive for the long term,” Hequet said.
Funding in the farm bill also plays a critical role in nutrition. Research in the College of Human Sciences is vital to discovery in the areas of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, conducting basic research along with community and behavioral research in partnership with schools, families and communities to improve knowledge, behaviors and practices related to nutrition and health.
Naima Moustaid-Moussa, a professor of nutritional sciences and director of the Obesity Research Cluster, said competitive nutrition research within the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is primarily funded by grants from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) generated by the farm bill in priority areas such as food safety, nutrition and health. She added, however, those funds are limited, leading to few fundamental human nutrition and childhood obesity projects being funded each year.
"The importance of nutrition to maintaining good health and preventing these diseases underscores the urgency for institutions such as Texas Tech to stay at the forefront of nutrition and agriculture research,” Moustaid-Moussa said. "This is a critical investment in research and development for the dual purpose of enhancing agricultural productivity and improving human nutrition and health as well as training new generations in food and agriculture. To keep our children and aging population healthy, we must continue developing new strategies to prevent human diseases through nutrition, especially the dramatic rise in adult diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver and heart disease in the youth population.”