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Ag Groups Give Generously to Research, Public Support Falls Short

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington’s commodity commissions give generously — five times the national average — to support agricultural research, but public-sector funding is falling short, according to Washington State University’s James R. Carlson, associate director of the Agricultural Research Center.

“In fiscal year 1995-1996, Washington’s commodity commissions contributed over $4.7 million to support research at WSU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service locations and experiment stations in some other states,” Carlson said.

“Between 1991 and 1996, Washington’s commissions contributed an average of $4.4 million annually, or 0.148 percent of cash farm receipts. The national average for all states between 1989 and 1993 was $37.7 million, or 0.025 percent of cash farm receipts.”

Washington’s agribusinesses and private benefactors also add support through gifts, grants and in-kind assistance.

“This private-sector support for agricultural research has ultimately benefited consumers, growers and the state’s natural resources. Washington’s agricultural industries are doing more than their counterparts in many other states,” said Carlson.

Why are Washington’s agricultural industries so generous? In part because growers have a vested interest in supporting research. Several of the state’s crops are sold to markets with specialized needs, and growers often rely on research to meet those needs.

For example, a large part of Washington’s agricultural crops is exported to global markets. Meeting their needs will require developing innovative pest control methods that reduce the use of pesticides, and enhancing product quality through improved farming and handling methods.

Over the years, commission-funded research has solved practical problems and yielded profitable innovations that help Washington remain competitive in local, national and global markets. For example, controlled-atmosphere storage of apples helped make that fruit Washington’s largest crop, and new technologies for pest control have saved growers millions of dollars, according to Carlson.

But private-sector support is only one side of the research funding equation. “The funding coming from Washington’s private sector focuses research on urgent problems. State and federal funds support the infrastructure and base programs necessary for pursuing today’s high-tech research,” said Carlson.

Unfortunately, the public side of the research funding equation has been weakened in recent years by cuts in federal and state research dollars, according to Carlson. Washington now ranks 44th in state support for agricultural research, providing approximately $5.13 for every $1,000 of cash receipts. The average for all states, $17.11, is more than three times the Washington figure.

“We are facing complex challenges in an increasingly competitive global economy with more rigorous criteria for product quality and end use. Other states and countries — especially in Europe and Asia — are investing heavily in agricultural research, employing the latest techniques of biotechnology and encouraging technology transfer. Our competitors have fixed their sights on displacing Washington’s products in the global marketplace,” Carlson said.

“Meeting these challenges will require strong partnerships, not only with industry but with state and federal governments as well.”

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