Photo Credit Getty ImagesDavid Silverman

Photo Credit: Getty Images/David Silverman

It takes a research army to reach unstoppable levels

It is hard to put a dollar value on all the research that placed innovation, enhanced technologies and practices at farmers’ and ranchers’ fingertips, helping them to reach new productivity thresholds that our forefathers could never imagine. The return on investment from both private and public sector has returned high yields in productivity and value to the U.S. economy. In 2007, the USDA Economic and Research Service roughly estimated that each dollar spent on agriculture research returned about $10 worth of benefits to the economy.

Yet, any monetary value penciled for food and agriculture research ROI does not reflect the value-added attributes. The social ROI is much greater. For the global consumer, it is like wrapping everything up in scrumptious bacon. Society, on the whole, reaps the largest benefits from the advancements in agriculture, and perhaps takes it for granted the most. While the social ROI is rarely figured into the equation, it is often the reason for the research journey to begin.

The research journey from hypothesis to final results is not trouble-free. Many successes have emerged from the ashes of failures. For those personally involved, the time and commitment to finding the solutions, new technology and fresh innovation through science are not wasted. It has brought great changes to the swine business.

It is hard to pinpoint just one biggest revolution for pig farmers. It is a matter of your perspective and an individual stake in a particular segment of the pork industry. The swine business is complex. The types of operations are diverse, but solid research deep-rooted in science has no doubt moved any hog farm forward.

On the job, I have the great privilege to discuss the rich history of the swine business with hog farmers. I listen to them vividly recall those rough days battling the outside elements just to keep the pigs alive. You can see the worries they carry on the lines on their faces from the sleepless nights but at the same time see the relief in their eyes when they brought the pigs indoors. Raising pigs in a controlled environment year round transform the way the pigs are raised and opened the door to state-of-the-art-facilities capitalizing on the latest automation.

The recent pork boom only illustrates the great strides in animal health, genetics and management practices have contributed to overall efficiency. America’s pig farmers are just good at raising delicious pork for everyone’s table, but it is not without assistance from the research community and its supporters.

Still, top-notch science is useless without proper leadership and the freedom to make the most of it for even better days ahead. Regrettably, the future of the pig business is not completely in control of the producers. It is heavily impacted by the consumer, regulations and limited funds obstructing the research pipeline.

We are facing a growing consumer community that fears technology. Unfortunately, consumers’ fears trump all other concerns, especially when it comes to food. Excellent research is often tossed aside if communication surrounding the new innovation or practice is broken. It is about the story behind the research rather than barking out the scientific data. This same fear will also spur increased regulations that will stifle any forthcoming agriculture advancements.

Although the private sector is paying to play in the research arena, the public investment is diminishing. Since 2003, the USDA’s research budget has risen less than 1% while global competitors like China have tripled government financing in agriculture sciences. As agriculture organizations, in a recent letter to Congressional leaders urging funding for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, explain “Global competition, unprecedented demand, resource constraints, emerging pests and pathogens, and volatile weather are posing new challenges for farmers.”

The research community is breaking new ground; however, it takes an army to excel U.S. agriculture to unstoppable levels.

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