A little more than a year ago, I became aware of the Charitable Agricultural Research Act. This innovative federal legislation sought to create a type of 501(c)(3) organization—an agricultural research organization (ARO). AROs would allow more private wealth from individuals and families to establish research institutions for the purpose of public-sector agricultural research. The legislation was introduced by two long-time supporters of agriculture, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California.
In a time of declining public funding for agricultural research, the Act is intended to achieve three important things: 1) bring more research funds into agricultural research, but not through traditional public funding or federal appropriations; 2) build new research capacity in the United States; and 3) create the very private-public partnerships that this sector needs to deliver purposeful outcomes to domestic and international agriculture. This Act’s free-market, entrepreneurial approach to advance public agricultural research intrigued me.
I serve as president of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the nation’s largest independent, nonprofit plant science/agricultural institution. The organization’s founder, Lloyd Noble, invested a substantial amount of personal wealth to advance public- sector research in an effort to conserve our soil and advance agriculture.
The Noble Foundation is a working example of what the authors of the Act seek to achieve—private funds supporting agricultural research. However, the Noble Foundation took a non-traditional 67-year journey to its current form, which is a mix of a private foundation and a research institution. It is a journey most would not have the patience to undertake. By allowing the creation of AROs, the U.S. Tax Code would provide a framework to benefit agricultural research and achieve the Act’s important objectives. In a fractious industry, more than 60 agricultural and non-agricultural groups, associations, universities and the like supported/support the Charitable Agricultural Research Act.
Like so many other pieces of pending legislation, the Act died at the end of the 112th Congress. Today it remains on the sidelines awaiting the fate of comprehensive tax reform and identification of its place at the table.
The opportunity for focusing private wealth to create institutions similar to the Noble Foundation is a worthy initiative; we will see what the future holds for the Act. To learn more, visit http://www.noble.org/global/cara.pdf.