May 17, 2013
On behalf of more the undersigned agricultural businesses, organizations, and scientists, we respectfully ask for your support of Senator Tester’s amendment to the Senate Farm Bill. This amendment aims to enhance farmer access to improved crop cultivars and livestock breeds adapted to diverse and regional farming needs. Directing more public dollars toward classical breeding projects that result in finished seeds and breeds increases the competitiveness of agriculture across the U.S. Classical breeding projects also improve food security for our growing population.
Classical breeding is a proven approach to meeting our food and fiber needs
Classical plant and livestock breeding is a proven science. It is our most successful and benign approach to crop improvement, accounting for about half of our dramatic food and fiber crop yield increases throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Classical breeding, using field-based selection, complements newer forms of breeding and fills important roles that lab-based approaches, such as genomics, are not well suited to. Lab-based breeding has value, and may become more important as these technologies improve, but cannot be relied upon currently or in the foreseeable future to fulfill many breeding needs. Classical breeding, in particular, is highly cost-effective.
Senator Tester’s amendment reinforces and builds on a 2008 Farm Bill mandate
The need to better support classical breeding becomes more pressing each year. The 2008 Farm Bill included a congressional mandate that classical plant breeding be a priority within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). There have been other requests by congressional agriculture and appropriations committees for USDA to make classical plant and animal breeding a priority.
To date, USDA has not fulfilled the 2008 congressional mandate. USDA is aware of the problem, and Senator Tester’s amendment would support the agency’s efforts by clarifying the urgent need to prioritize classical breeding as an essential approach to improving traits of broad interest, and addressing the demand for new cultivars that meet the diverse needs of farmers, especially cultivars adapted to regional conditions – a critical requirement for developing highly productive crop cultivars and diverse cropping systems that are resilient.
Senator Tester’s amendment corrects problems in AFRI breeding grants that have become apparent since the last Farm Bill by prioritizing public cultivar and breed development through classical breeding. It also removes hurdles that hinder USDA’s progress toward this goal. Genomics methods would continue to receive substantial funding.
U.S. farmers face diminished seed choices to meet specific farming needs
Farmers constantly face changing insect, weed, and disease pressures that vary by region and that rapidly change. Crops must continuously be adapted to meet these changes. Similarly, climate, growing season length, soils, and water availability all greatly affect crop growth and vary across the U.S. The most productive approach is to have seeds that are adapted to the same environment as their intended use.
The large investments currently made in molecular breeding programs do not adequately support the development of complex traits necessary for adapting seed to regional needs. It is not cost-effective to use these approaches to develop crop cultivars or livestock breeds adapted to the diverse needs of farmers. The lack of seed options is especially apparent for farmers seeking a range of cultivars in major crops. Options are even less for farmers seeking cultivars that are held in the public domain.
Meeting food security needs
Beyond farmer choice, the lack of seed availability and the narrowing of genetic resources are making our food system less secure. Classical breeding can provide the genetic tools farmers need to manage evolving pest, disease, and weather challenges, creating a source of seeds and breeds adapted to changing needs and opportunities. Of course, one of these needs includes feeding our growing population. The maintenance and improvement of genetic diversity through classical breeding is essential for the success of productive food systems and the greater global food supply, both now and into the future. This is a national issue and should be addressed, at least in part, through national programs such as AFRI.
Farmer access to regionally adapted seeds and breeds is paramount to fostering the competitiveness of agriculture in all regions of the U.S. As agricultural research has shifted toward an emphasis on lab-based and molecular breeding, seed choice has not kept up with demand, and the diversity of our plant genetic resources has narrowed. Farmers need access to seeds that are bred specifically for their regions and cropping systems. In particular, farmers lament limited cultivar options in major crops, especially publicly held cultivars released by land grant universities that are adapted to regional farming needs to satisfy the national market. By improving agricultural productivity and resilience, classical breeding also improves food security for our growing population.
Senator Tester’s amendment seeks to reinvigorate classical plant breeding in the public sector to better ensure farmers have the seeds and breeds they need to be successful.
Sincerely,Arkansas Rice Growers Association (Arkansas) California Farmers Union (California) Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (North and South Carolina) Center for a Livable Future Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Maryland) Center for Rural Affairs (Nebraska) Dakota Resource Council (North Dakota) Dakota Rural Action (South Dakota) Delta Land & Community (Arkansas) Draper Family Farm (Iowa) Family Farm Defenders (Wisconsin) Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (Texas) Food For Maine’s Future (Maine) Friends of Family Farmers (Oregon) Grain Millers, Inc. (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon) Hawai’i Public Seed Initiative (Hawaii) Idaho Rural Council (Idaho) Kansas Farmers Union (Kansas) Kansas Rural Center (Kansas) Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota) Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (Mississippi) Missouri Farmers Union (Missouri) Missouri Rural Crisis Center (Missouri) Montana Farmers Union (Montana) National Cooperative Grocers Association (National) National Family Farm Coalition (National) National Farmers Union (National) National Hmong American Farmers (National) National Organic Coalition (National) National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Nebraska Farmers Union (Nebraska) New England Farmers Union (New England) Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (Ohio) Oregon Rural Action (Oregon) Organic Farming Research Foundation Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, Inc. (National) Organically Grown Company (Oregon) Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (National) Organic Trade Association (National) Organic Valley (Wisconsin) Organization for Competitive Markets (Nebraska) Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (Pennsylvania) Prairie Quest Farm (Iowa) Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pennsylvania) R-CALF (National) Ranch Foods Direct (Colorado) Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (National) Rural Vermont (Vermont) Seed Matters (California) South Agassiz Resource Council (North Dakota) Steve’s Seed Conditioning (Illinois) Stonebridge Ltd. (Iowa) The Land Institute (Kansas) The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (National) Union of Concerned Scientists (National) United Natural Foods, Inc. (National) Virginia Association for Biological Farming (Virginia) Western Colorado Congress (Colorado) Western Organization of Resource Councils Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Iowa)
Agricultural Scientists and ProfessionalsCatherine Badgley, Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of Michigan Zach Bouricius, Consultant Plant, Soil and Insect Science from University of Massachusetts at Amherst Liz Carlisle, Ph.D. Candidate National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow Center for Diversified Farming Systems University of California – Berkeley John E. Carroll, Ph.D. College of Life Sciences and Agriculture University of New Hampshire Eric Casler, Ph.D. Candidate Conservation Biology Program University of Minnesota Martha L. Crouch, Ph.D. Consultant on Agriculture and Technology Julie Dawson, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics Cornell University, New York George M. Diggs, Jr., Ph.D. Professor of Biology Austin College, Texas J. Franklin Egan, Ph.D. Department of Crop and Soil Sciences Pennsylvania State University David Ehrenfeld, M.D., Ph.D. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources School of Environmental and Biological Sciences Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Les Everett, Ph.D. Agronomist Water Resources Center University of Minnesota Jan Garrett, Ph.D. Organic Vegetable Production Research Auburn University, Alabama Michael Glos Department of Plant Breeding Cornell University, New York Walter Goldstein, Ph.D. Executive Director Mandaamin Institute (Wisconsin) Major Goodman, Ph.D. William Neal Reynolds Professor and Distinguished University Professor of Crop Science, Genetics, and Statistics Member of the National Academy of Sciences North Carolina State University Julie Grossman, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Soil Fertility Management in Organic Cropping Systems North Carolina State University John Patrick Hart, Ph.D. Candidate Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics (Vegetable Breeding) Cornell University (New York) Lori Hoagland, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Specialty Crop Production Systems Purdue University (Indiana) Philip H. Howard, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Community Sustainability Michigan State University Alastair Iles, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Science, Technology & Environment Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management University of California – Berkeley Krista Isaacs, Ph.D. Candidate in Agroecology Michigan State University Allison L H Jack, Ph.D. Professor of Agroecology Prescott College (Arizona) Sibella Kraus Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) David Brower Center (California) Matt Liebman, Ph.D. Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture Professor of Agronomy Iowa State University Claire Luby, Graduate Student Department of Horticulture University of Wisconsin – Madison Alexandra Lyon, Graduate Student Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies University of Wisconsin – Madison Jennifer MacAdam, Ph.D. Associate Professor Plant Physiology and Forage Production Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate Utah State University Michael Mazourek, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Calvin Noyes Keeney Professor of Plant Breeding Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics Cornell University (New York) Kathleen McAfee, Ph.D. Associate Professor, International Relations San Francisco State University, California V. Ernesto Méndez, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Agroecology & Environmental Studies Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group Environmental Program and Plant & Soil Science Department University of Vermont Maywa Montenegro, Ph.D. Student Environmental Science, Policy, and Management University of California – Berkeley Kevin Murphy, Ph.D. Assistant Research Professor/Clinical Assistant Professor Department of Crop and Soil Sciences Washington State University James Myers, Ph.D. Professor of Vegetable Breeding and Genetics Oregon State University John Navazio, Ph.D. Organic Seed Research & Extension Specialist Washington State University/Organic Seed Alliance Dan Nuckols, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Economics Austin College, Texas Founding Board Member, Council for Healthy Food Systems Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D. George W. Pack Professor of Natural Resources and Environment University of Michigan Chris Picone, Ph.D. Department of Biology Fitchburg State University (Massachusetts) Gerald Presley Research Assistant Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering University of Minnesota Dianne Rocheleau, Ph.D. Professor of Geography Director Global Environmental Studies Clark University (Massachusetts) Michelle Schroeder-Moreno, Ph.D. Assistant Professor and Agroecology Education North Carolina State University Adrienne Shelton, Graduate Student Department of Agronomy University of Wisconsin – Madison Annie Shattuck Department of Geography University of California – Berkeley Gerald R. Smith, Ph.D. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of Michigan Richard G. Smith, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Agroecology Department of Natural Resources and the Environment University of New Hampshire Allison A. Snow, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology Ohio State University Doreen Stabinsky, Ph.D. College of the Atlantic Bar Harbor (Maine) Seth Swanson Montana State University Extension Missoula County Extension Horticulturist William F. Tracy, Ph.D. Professor and Chair Friday Chair of Vegetable Research Department of Agronomy University of Wisconsin – Madison Joel Wainwright, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Geography Ohio State University