As a pear grower in Hood River, and the only full-time farmer currently in the Oregon Legislature, I’ve faced solving agricultural challenges throughout my career. I understand the value of enlisting the help of innovators and researchers in our public institutions, and know that they are working hard to develop solutions to strengthen agricultural opportunities.

Today, federal and public investments in food and agricultural science, competitively awarded to leading higher education institutions such as Oregon State University, are enabling the food and agricultural sector to work through obstacles to meet the global food supply and even mitigate the effects of climate change and other critical challenges.

Since 2008 when key federal support for food and agricultural research were consolidated under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the federal government has waged a coordinated campaign to spur growth and innovation in science.

This effort deserves wide praise. NIFA grants and similar competitively awarded grants under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program have positioned the U.S. and its programs in places like Corvallis, Eugene, and other top higher education outposts in states large and small to continue to spark innovation.

The stakes are high. Advances in food and agricultural research enable far-reaching outcomes for the agricultural community, and in turn, the U.S. First and foremost, university researchers in this area, with federal support, have been able to increase productivity for farmers using less land and fertilizers. Not only boosting production, but research that increases such productivity while demanding less acreage assists us in lowering emissions here in the U.S.

Also, NIFA and AFRI grants continue to explore how farmers can navigate all the variables in production, from market volatility, insecticides, unpredictable climate, water quality, labor instability, and pests.

Oregon has been a true leader in agricultural research. Over the last five years, Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, and a handful of other institutions have invested over $16 million in grants through these programs to support an array of innovative research. Examples include tackling water use and irrigation challenges, researching antibiotic resistance of specific types of soils and crops from wastewater, and exploring the impact of climate change and extreme events on rural communities.

These Oregon institutions are doing so much more. And it benefits us all. With an agricultural industry in our state that represents over 34,000 farms across 16.4 million acres, it is easily one of our largest. In fact, according to the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon food and agricultural products are the second largest export sector in terms of value throughout the state.

Oregon agriculture’s farm gate value was $5.7 billion in 2015, making agriculture a top economic driver in the state.

To keep our agricultural sector competitive and sustainable, advances in innovation will be required. And to keep the U.S. positioned globally to take on increased food production to support our national economy and farming community, federal investments for this research will only enable us above and beyond where we currently stand.

Our hope today is that Congress will increase the federal supports for food and agricultural research to $445 million in the FY 2020 budget. We are thankful for leading advocates across our delegation who support our state’s agricultural sector, and now is the time to connect ground-breaking research and innovation to bigger and more far-reaching productivity in this critical sector for years to come.

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Chuck Thomsen is the state senator from Senate District 26 in the Oregon Legislature, representing east Multnomah, east Clackamas, and Hood River counties. He is a pear grower and former 16-year county commissioner from Hood River.

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