From Fred Vocasek, senior lab agronomist:
I spent Tuesday in Washington D.C. helping with the Congressional Visit Day, sponsored by the Science Policy office of the Agronomy, Crop, and Soil Science Societies. A total of 55 people made up fourteen teams who visited nearly a hundred Congressional offices. The teams were assigned to the Representatives and Senators from their own state – Kansas in my case. We met with staff, usually a Legislative Assistant working for the Senator or Representative. Our objective was to ask the Congressional member to support funding for agricultural research in the upcoming 2016 budget negotiations.
Our team consisted of myself; Trevor Rife, whose K-State PhD research is focused on wheat genetic improvement; Katrina Larkin, a December K-State grad, farm wife, assistant agronomy manager at Mid-Kansas Coop, and who took top overall at last fall’s Australian Universities Crop Competition; and Bill Cook, Society Publications Director. During our office visits, we each explained to the Legislative Assistant how the investment in ag research funding benefitted our business and our customers. All of them were supportive, but pointed out the reality of the budget negotiations.
The President’s budget requests spending up to $450 million in the USDA budget for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The various House and Senate Appropriations Committees and Subcommittees negotiate the final amount that will be spent, which will be $325 million in 2015. AFRI is a program that awards grant dollars to approved research projects. In 2013, a total of 1400 projects were approved for funding, but only 350 projects were finally funded.
AFRI grants support over 2000 students including undergrads, grad students, and researchers. As an example, Kansas State has an AFRI grant to study the wheat blast fungus, a devastating disease recently identified in Brazil. Another AFRI grant is funding a study of sorghum genetics to improve bioenergy production. AFRI has a direct impact on Servi-Tech. The grants fund many other research and Extension projects across the U.S., resulting in the technologies which we implement with our own customers. We also depend on the professors that earn degrees under AFRI projects to train our current and future crop consultants and lab staff.