Efforts by the White House to cut the national debt could put millions of research dollars in jeopardy, but the National Potato Council isn’t going to let that happen without a fight.
“The President wants to eliminate key research programs,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based council.
“We’re working with Congress to prevent that.”
The programs in question are the USDA Agricultural Research Service Pest and Disease Research and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Potato Breeding Research.
Both programs have received funding from Congress for more than two decades.
Keeling said the ARS program received $1.4 million in 2011, while the NIFA program received $1.35 million.
“Three million a year is not a ton of money, but it’s a private-public partnership,” said Mark Szymanski, the potato council’s director of public relations.
“There’s leverage of other dollars. We’re talking about nearly a one-to-one match.”
The ARS uses funds to partner with state governments for research initiatives that address potato diseases, pests, marketing issues and postharvest disorders.
The breeding program strives to improve the efficiency and quality of U.S. potato production.
From 1991-2006, the federal government invested $23.5 million in the breeding program, while state governments and private investments totaled $22 million.
Keeling said there is reason to hope that members of Congress will be willing to listen because researchers — and ultimately growers — in 18 states benefit from federal funding for the breeding program.
“It could make a difference in whether or not they have a research program,” Keeling said of the cuts proposed by the Obama administration.
Those potential budget cuts are not the council’s only funding issue of concern.
The 2008 farm bill will expire in September.
If Congress does not pass a 2012 farm bill prior to expiration of the current law and merely extends the 2008 farm bill, several specialty crop issues will lose baseline funding, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
Keeling said that program has been worth $14.7 million to the potato industry during the past four years, providing funds to address issues such as zebra chip, acrylamide and potato virus Y.
“That’s a lot of money for the potato industry,” Keeling said. “That’s been important for us.”
The 2008 farm bill also created grants to help solve problems that could hinder exports and state block grants.
“Every state potato organization I know of got funding from the state block program,” Keeling said.
“That’s very helpful at the local level.”
House Republicans and Senate Democrats were locked in a battle over issues related to payroll tax, unemployment benefits and physician payments for Medicare for months in late 2011 and early 2012.
Keeling said farm bills typically have more bipartisan support.
“It’s going to take a real effort on their part to get a farm bill done,” Keeling said.
“I think the possibility of Congress not being able to meet a deadline is very real based on their track record. What we’re doing on both of our issues is trying to educate Congress about their importance to our industry.”