Since early January, Breakthrough’s agriculture team has been busy developing and submitting appropriations requests and discussing those requests with stakeholders, environmental and agricultural organizations, and Congressional staffers. Our requests all focused on agricultural research, and they were largely informed by two guiding principles:
1) Agricultural research provides climate benefits, period -- broad, top-line increases in public agricultural R&D benefit the climate by boosting agricultural productivity and sparing land regardless of which specific research areas receive the funding
2) Some research areas are higher impact than others -- for example, research addressing any of the US’s top three agricultural emissions sources (soil management, enteric fermentation, and manure management) have the potential to substantially improve agriculture’s climate outcomes.
With these principles in mind, we set out to develop proposals that highlight particularly promising research areas and increase overall funding for major research agencies and programs, such as Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
After researching the climate mitigation potential of numerous research areas, with a preference for solutions that could improve agricultural productivity and directly cut emissions, we identified six high-impact and pragmatic proposals, most of which include a top-line funding ask and a report language request. Specifically, we requested increased funding for:
- ARS Salaries & Expenses account and language providing additional resources for work on cattle feed additives and nutritional management.
- NRCS Soil Surveys Program and language urging the program to regularly measure, monitor, and model soil carbon sequestration on agricultural lands.
- NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and language encouraging AFRI to support enhanced rock weathering research.
- DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and language urging increased support for its agriculture programs including ROOTS, which funds crop breeding and technology development projects that could aid in the development of crops with enhanced roots.
- NIFA Research & Education Activities and language urging planning for the types of research facilities needed to confront the climate crisis.
- ARS Buildings & Facilities account, which funds the acquisition of land and the construction, repair, extension, and purchase of equipment and facilities.
The report language we provided in our requests highlights research areas with high mitigation potential. For example, the development and adoption of feed additives, crops with enhanced roots, and enhanced rock weathering could increase productivity, which would in turn prevent cropland conversion and reduce the need for emissions-intensive inputs.
According to a recent study, methane-inhibiting feed additives could also reduce total lifecycle emissions by up to 19% for dairy cattle and 23% for beef cattle. Widespread adoption of enhanced crop roots and enhanced rock weathering could sequester 500 million and 0.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, respectively, and in the case of rock weathering, that carbon storage would likely be permanent.
Of these six, only the ARS Buildings & Facilities request would not directly increase research spending. Additional Buildings & Facilities funding would, however, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of research spending by safeguarding research quality, increasing research capacity, and preventing delays. For ARS facilities and researchers, the situation is quite dire -- funding fell by over 90% between Fiscal Years 2019 and 2021, and the ARS has a $1 billion maintenance backlog.
We’ve submitted our requests, engaged with stakeholders, and spoken with Congressional staffers about our proposals’ potential benefits, and we’re starting to see signs that our hard work is paying off. The House’s Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug, and Related Agencies report, released on June 29th, and Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies report, released on July 15th, both reflect many of our appropriations priorities.
The reports provide increased funding for ARS Buildings & Facilities, ARS Salaries & Expenses, NRCS Soil Surveys, NIFA AFRI, NIFA Research & Education Activities, and ARPA-E. They also provide report language that: directs the Soil Surveys Program to regularly measure, monitor, and model soil carbon levels on agricultural lands; notes that enhanced rock weathering research is eligible for AFRI grants; and acknowledges that ARPA-E funds research on crop root enhancement.
Now we’ll have to patiently wait for the Senate Appropriations Committee to reveal its bills and, finally, for Congress to negotiate and pass a final bill. Stay tuned for more updates along the way.