Kip Tom (L), former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, speaks during Tuesday’s agriculture panel discussion at Tom Farms in Leesburg. Tom was joined on stage by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (second from left), as well as Dr. Jacqueline Applegate (second from right), president of Bayer Crop Science North America; Dr. Karen Plaut (C), dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture; and Kassi Tom Rowland (R), Farm Journal Foundation farmer ambassador. Photo Provided.
Kip Tom (L), former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, speaks during Tuesday’s agriculture panel discussion at Tom Farms in Leesburg. Tom was joined on stage by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (second from left), as well as Dr. Jacqueline Applegate (second from right), president of Bayer Crop Science North America; Dr. Karen Plaut (C), dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture; and Kassi Tom Rowland (R), Farm Journal Foundation farmer ambassador. Photo Provided.
LEESBURG – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun met Tuesday with agricultural industry leaders at an Indiana farm event to discuss how public support for agricultural research and development (R&D) can address challenges to America’s food system and benefit global food security.

The event featured how the public sector, private sector and universities can work together to drive innovation and address challenges such as global hunger, food price inflation and supply chain risks, according to a provided news release.

Speakers included Braun; Dr. Jacqueline Applegate, president of Bayer Crop Science North America; Dr. Karen Plaut, dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture; Kassi Tom Rowland, Farm Journal Foundation farmer ambassador; and Kip Tom, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, who served as moderator. The event at Tom Farms in Leesburg, was held in honor of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who was originally scheduled to speak and who was a dedicated advocate for global food security issues.

“Hoosier farmers feed America, and though they are facing unique challenges, we also have unique opportunities to innovate and come out stronger than ever,” said Braun. “I’m proud to be part of this event at Tom Farms in Leesburg to discuss how we can help Hoosier farmers thrive in a time of inflation and supply chain disruption, and honor the memory of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski who cared so much about the farmers she served.”

Today, the food system is under extreme pressure due to the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 and severe weather events. Global hunger is at record levels, farmers are contending with high input costs and consumers are facing severe price inflation at the grocery store. All of these issues point to the need to invest in agricultural research and innovation to improve the long-term resiliency of food supplies. In spite of this, U.S. public investment in agricultural R&D has declined in real dollars since 2003, putting U.S. trade and competitiveness at risk. Agriculture is particularly important to Indiana, where the sector contributes $31.2 billion to the state's economy, stated the release.

“Farmers are the bedrock of our global food system and have the huge task of feeding the world as populations grow,” said Tom, who is a seventh-generation Indiana farmer in addition to being a former U.S. ambassador. “Public investments in agricultural research are absolutely vital if we’re going to be able to meet the needs of growing populations while also dealing with high input costs and limited natural resources.”

Private sector research investments have had a significant impact, particularly on yields for large commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, but the public sector also has an important role to play. For example, public investment and public-private partnerships such as the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) can support early stage research to pave the way for significant long-term innovations. Public investment can also support crop markets with smaller planted acres nationally, such as wheat and rice, as well as comparatively under-explored areas of animal health, environmental and food safety research.

“While Bayer aggressively invests in our own research and development, we believe that innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said Applegate. “Through ongoing collaborations and partnerships, we continue to unlock innovative solutions that help farmers produce crops more efficiently and sustainably.”

In Indiana, research being done at Purdue University is helping solve a number of global hunger issues. For example, Purdue has been globally recognized as an innovative leader in the area of crop storage for smallholder farmers, developing the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags that hermetically seal to prevent harvested crops from being damaged by mold, insects or other pests. Another exciting project backed by FFAR and Bayer Crop Science supports researchers at Purdue and Iowa State University in mapping and analyzing corn traits to predict future yield trends.

“Conversations like these about the importance of agricultural research are critical as we work to drive agriculture and innovation forward to meet the needs of farmers, their families and consumers here in Indiana, the nation and the world,” said Plaut. “As we see continued challenges on many fronts, investment in ag research and development must keep pace.”

Agricultural research has one of the highest returns of any public investment, returning on average $17 in benefits for every $1 invested, the release stated. Yet today, China and Brazil now outspend the U.S. on public funding for agricultural research, threatening America’s competitive advantage in agriculture, according to a recent report commissioned by Farm Journal Foundation and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Supporting agricultural research is good for both global food security as well as national security,” said Rowland. “Hunger around the world can lead to political unrest, immigration, and instability, which pose risks for everyone. It is crucial, especially in this time of rising global hunger and food price inflation, that the U.S. invests in ag R&D to prevent potential food crises in the future.”