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Research on agriculture has long been the underfunded stepchild of the federal research enterprise. The 2014 budget gave USDA under $3 billion in total to fund all of its in-house research units and their granting operations: Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Economic Research Service, and Agricultural Statistics Service.
This may seem like a lot, but NIH gets $30 billion a year.
The 2014 farm bill contained a provision aimed at raising money for agricultural research. It provided $200 million (peanuts in federal dollars) to establish FFAR, which will operate as a non-profit corporation to obtain matching funds from private industry.
The members of the board were announced a couple of weeks ago.
It should be no surprise that many of the board members represent industry. Industry nominated 7 of the members. The other 8 were selected from a list provided by the National Academy of Sciences.
Now the board has to raise at least $200 million from industry, presumably with no strings attached.
Here’s the foundation’s dilemma: if industry funding has no strings—earmarks for certain research projects, for example—why would industry want to contribute? But if the contributions do come with strings, they create conflicts of interest.
This will be fun to watch. Stay tuned.