President Trump is proposing a 21% cut in USDA funding. While Congress will ultimately determine the size of the budget, it is likely there will be cuts in most program areas. In testimony before a House subcommittee last week, Purdue Dean of Agriculture Jay Akridge said cuts in funds for research would mean a cut in staff at the West Lafayette campus, “Capacity funds are funds that come to our campus and we pay salaries with them — the salaries of staff and researchers that respond to local needs, that respond to the emergencies that hit our farmers like weather or pests. That kind of a hit means head count ultimately.”
Akridge said that some of these extension specialists work directly with farmers to help solve real world problems and that their loss would hurt Indiana farmers, “These are people funded by USDA funds that are doing applied research and working directly with farmers, especially the larger farming operations in the state.” Akridge testified before a House Ag subcommittee hearing that focused on research funding in the new Farm Bill. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who chaired the subcommittee, noted that USDA programs and Extension agencies at land-grant universities help make U.S. agriculture the envy of the world. But the private sector has taken over more of the workload in recent years as public funding has declined. “Agricultural research increasingly occupies a smaller share of the United States’ public research portfolio,” Davis said. “At the same time, other countries like China are rapidly outpacing U.S. public investment. Given that public research is often the foundation upon which private research is built, public investment is essential to maintaining the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.”
Some of the research that might be impacted at Purdue by cuts in funding would also have international implications, “We have a plant breeder working on orange corn, very bright orange corn,” said Akridge. He explained that this corn has increased levels of vitamin A content in the corn. The lack of vitamin A causes blindness in children in developing countries. “This kind of sophisticated biology could help us develop a food source that would help with childhood blindness in developing countries around the world,” he stated. Ackridge said funding for ag research has basically been flat for the past decade.