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New legislation could infuse agricultural research with new funding

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Earlier this month, members in both houses of Congress introduced a progressive new piece of legislation, the Charitable Agricultural Research Act. In a time when it seems legislative impasses are commonplace and statesmanship is a forgotten art, the Charitable Agricultural Research Act is a result of a close working relationship among Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

Introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.), the Act is bi-partisan, bicameral legislation (S. 1280 and H.R. 2671), and is supported by a host of co-sponsors representing a range of geographic regions and different constituencies. For these reasons, the Act is a shining example of good policy producing strong legislation.

To complement the agricultural research sector’s long-time dependency on public funding, the Act endeavors to spur new agricultural research by leveraging private (philanthropic) monies to create new charitable partnerships among the nation’s agricultural universities and new, private, non-profit organizations. The Act amends the U.S. Tax Code—an unconventional target for increasing agricultural research capacity, for sure—to allow for the creation of new 501(c)(3), tax-exempt agricultural research organizations.  The Act does not provide tax credits or other similar incentives. Rather, it creates a new type of charitable organizations to be established and funded using private wealth, and having a focus on conducting public agricultural research.

The model is not new but rather is similar to medical research organizations, which were added to the tax code in the mid-1950s to enhance public human medical research. About 200 medical research organizations operate today to discover solutions to a broad range of human diseases and conditions.

Regarding the Act, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said: “In the current tight budget environment Congress needs to enact innovation legislation, such as this bill, which will encourage private donors to help meet shortfalls in agricultural research funding. ...[The Act] will provide a new investment tool for donors wishing to dedicate their own resources to agriculture research. Production agriculture’s current economic strength is a direct result of research that—among other things—has increased crop yields, made livestock healthier, and made food safer. Our bill will facilitate the transfer of much-needed private funding to agricultural research.”

Thank you to Senators Stabenow and Thune and to Congressmen Nunes and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), for introducing this measure. While we recognize that introduction-to-law is a long journey, those that value a productive, safe and healthy global food supply should applaud this legislation. The Charitable Agricultural Research Act cannot cure past shortfalls in agricultural research funding. It does, however, offer another tool in the toolbox to help meet present and future challenges of feeding an increasing global population despite fewer natural resources and ever-changing operating environments.

Being a part of this sector for a long time, I know that we need all the tools we can get.

Bill Buckner Bill Buckner (
President and CEO of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation | Twitter | Facebook

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