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Hirono Leads Colleagues in Introducing Legislation to Address Maintenance Backlog at Agricultural Research Facilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced the AuGmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act, legislation to provide billions in funding to address deferred maintenance at U.S. schools of agriculture, including the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH CTAHR), and USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities.  

“Agriculture research institutions play an important role in supporting farming communities and driving innovation in the agriculture industry,” said Senator Hirono. “Decades of underinvestment have left many of these schools with significant maintenance backlogs—from deteriorating facilities to labs so out of date, they can only be used as storage rooms. The AG RESEARCH Act will provide much-needed financial support to enable agriculture schools and research facilities across the country to make critical upgrades and updates. Helping to ensure these institutions have the basic infrastructure and facilities they need will strengthen our country’s agricultural communities and increase food security.”

The AG RESEARCH Act is cosponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

“Agricultural research benefits both farmers and rural communities,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said. “This bill will ensure researchers and educators, like those at the University of Minnesota, have the resources they need to continue their vital work. With this legislation, we are making a long-overdue investment to promote innovation and opportunity while supporting agricultural producers.”

“Agriculture research is what helps our farmers stay competitive in a global marketplace,” said Senator Tina Smith. “The University of Minnesota is a flagship land-grant research institution, and Minnesota is also home to two ARS facilities in St. Paul and Morris. We need to support their work so our farmers have the tools they need to stay competitive in the face of extreme weather.”

“Decades of federal research has made America a global leader in food and agricultural breakthroughs, but today there are billions of dollars in aging and outdated infrastructure at our universities and USDA labs,” said Senator Dick Durbin.  “The AG Research Act will invest serious funding toward modernizing and rebuilding academic and federal facilities in Illinois and nationwide to power more groundbreaking innovations, making America stronger than we have ever known in food and agriculture.”

“Investing in research infrastructure is a crucial step in allowing us to strengthen Oregon’s robust agriculture industry,” said Senator Jeff Merkley. “This bill will support cutting-edge agricultural research that helps keep Oregon a global leader in wheat, berries, fruit and specialty crops.”

“The strength of New Mexico's agriculture industry starts with our schools of agriculture – preparing students for a fulfilling career caring for and maintaining our lands,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “That’s why I am proud that this bill delivers robust funding to ensure that the infrastructure at schools of agriculture like New Mexico State University are renovated and up-to-date. This investment will help attract and retain the next generation of agricultural professionals while ensuring our country remains a global leader in agriculture.”

“Our nation's farmers are the backbone of our country, working tirelessly to put food on our tables, and we must do all we can to support them,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said. “Research institutions play a crucial role in supporting our agricultural industry, providing innovative solutions for the many challenges our nation’s farmers face. The AG RESEARCH Act will provide much-needed support for these vital research institutions and allow them to continue finding solutions to our most pressing agricultural challenges. I am proud to fight for our nation’s farmers and will continue to work to ensure they receive the support they deserve.”

Earlier this year, Senator Hirono Hirono visited CTAHR’s Agricultural Resource Center on Kauai, where she saw firsthand the consequences of ag research maintenance backlogs.

A 2015 study reported that there was an estimated total of $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance at U.S. schools of agriculture. A 2021 report confirmed the effects of the insufficient funding to address maintenance backlogs at these facilities, reporting that 69% of these agricultural school buildings were at the end of their useful lives and that the cost of addressing deferred maintenance grew to $11.5 billion.

Additionally, the 2012 Agricultural Research Service Capital Investment Strategy indicated that USDA research facilities and ARS facilities have more than $1 billion in backlogged maintenance.

To address the deferred maintenance of these facilities, the AG RESEARCH Act will do the following:

U.S. Schools of Agriculture

  • Provide $1 billion in mandatory funding per fiscal year over five years in grants;
  • Authorize up to $3 billion per fiscal year of appropriated funding for grants;
  • Require a 1-to-1 match of grant funds unless waived by the Secretary of Agriculture;
  • Direct that grants be distributed equitably to the maximum extent practicable; and
  • Limit grant funds awarded to any one state to no more than 20 percent

USDA ARS facilities

  1. Provide $200 million in mandatory funding per fiscal year over five years 

This legislation is endorsed by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

"NASDA applauds the introduction of the AG RESEARCH Act in the Senate. Modern agricultural research and education facilities stand as the foundation of an innovative and productive agricultural sector; however, deferred maintenance threatens our ability to lead an increasingly competitive world,” said NASDA CEO Ted McKinney. “Investing in these facilities in the next farm bill is a critical step in supporting the needs of an ever-expanding domestic and worldwide population.”

“APLU thanks Senator Hirono for introducing the Ag RESEARCH Act,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “After decades of mounting deferred maintenance, this bill will allow colleges of agriculture, veterinary science, and forestry to update facilities to ensure U.S. agricultural innovation remains cutting edge. A strategic investment in agricultural research facilities in the next Farm Bill will allow the U.S. to reclaim our position as a global leader in agricultural innovation.”

The full text of the bill is available here.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, Senator Hirono has championed legislation to protect Hawaii’s environment, fish, wildlife, and plants, while also working to support local farmers and agriculture, and speed the transition to clean, renewable energy in Hawaii and across the country. In May 2023, Senator Hirono introduced the RTCP Revitalization Act, legislation to secure additional funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment (RTCP) Program. The program enables geographically disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in Hawaii, Alaska, and other insular areas to receive reimbursements for costs incurred when transporting supplies such as feed, fertilizer, and equipment parts. In February 2023, Senator Hirono introduced the Coffee Plant Health Initiative Amendments Act of 2023, which strengthens the ability of researchers to combat pests and diseases that threaten the coffee industry. In November of last year Senator Hirono wrote to Secretary Vilsack urging USDA to establish a climate hub in Hawaii. Senator Hirono has also introduced similar AG RESEARCH Act bills in past congresses, dating back to 2018, and has advocated for federal funding to address deferred maintenance for agricultural research facilities during annual appropriations cycles.