August 06, 2021

Senators Hirono, Klobuchar, King, Smith, Merkley, Van Hollen Introduce Legislation to Address Maintenance Backlog at Agricultural Research Facilities

AG RESEARCH Act would support research and training at University of Hawaii, other agriculture schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the AG RESEARCH Act to address the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog and modernization needs at various agricultural research facilities, including the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities. The backlog is estimated to be at least $11.5 billion for universities, and $1 billion for ARS facilities.

The AuGmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act would create competitive grants to be administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

“Hawaii’s agricultural industry faces ongoing threats like climate change and invasive species. Now more than ever, we must make certain that schools like the University of Hawaii have the tools and resources to continue conducting cutting-edge research,” Senator Hirono said. “The AG RESEARCH Act provides overdue investments that will continue America’s global agricultural leadership.”

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

"Investing in these research facilities will support innovation, productivity and competitiveness in American agriculture," said Senator Smith. "We need to get them up to speed to support the important agriculture research that's happening at colleges and universities across the country. I encourage eligible schools to apply for this grant."

“Agricultural research has been essential to the success of Maine’s hardworking farmers and their ability to continue producing high-quality and delicious products right here in our state,” said Senator King. “Unfortunately, too many of schools of agriculture both in-state and across the country have been facing deferred maintenance issues that harm their ability to conduct critical 21st century research. As technology advances and opens up new agricultural opportunities, it’s important that our research centers stay up-to-date with the latest tools available. This bill will ensure that land-grant universities, like the University of Maine, can invest in their research facilities and give them added certainty and a smoother road ahead for their important work.”

“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy in many communities across rural Oregon,” said Senator Merkley. “By investing in our research infrastructure, we can strengthen our robust agriculture industry and drive bold innovation that creates jobs. The AG RESEARCH Act allows us to tackle the various agricultural challenges Oregonians face and provide cutting-edge support to our farmers, who are crucial to the success of our economy.”

"We deeply appreciate Senator Hirono's leadership to support critical agricultural research that addresses community health, food security, and food safety," said Nicholas Comerford, Dean, UH CTAHR. "Such research is dependent on state-of-the-art facilities, as well as the creativity of scientists. Support to modernize these facilities is tremendously needed and welcome."

“Cutting-edge agricultural research, education, and extension require state-of-the-art facilities. The U.S. risks losing the ability to compete internationally if we ask our researchers and educators to conduct and deliver 21st century achievements in facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s. The AG RESEARCH Act will provide much needed support for revitalizing agricultural research infrastructure at colleges of agriculture across the country. This will reinforce our nation’s status as a global leader in agricultural innovation and productivity,” said Douglas L. Steele, Vice President, Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources at the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities.

The AG RESEARCH Act would provide competitive grants to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating, or remodeling research facilities and equipment. The USDA Secretary is directed to distribute the grants equitably based on geography, diversity, and size of institutions. The bill would also allow the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for continued maintenance of ARS research facilities, with priority given to the most critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

An initial report in 2015 estimated the deferred maintenance backlog at schools of agriculture to be $8.4 billion, with a total replacement cost of $29 billion. The report warned that without significant federal investment, the need would continue to grow. An updated report published earlier this year found just that, with the need now totaling at least $11.5 billion, with a total replacement cost of $38.1 billion.

Senator Hirono and her colleagues introduced similar legislation in 2018.