WASHINGTON – The rapid growth and changing composition of private investment in agriculture research and development has significant implications for the future of agriculture, according to a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS).
In an article published in the journal Science, ERS researchers discuss how private sector investments have expanded and in many cases offset sluggish growth in public sector funding of agriculture R&D. The article also describes how discoveries in public research projects have attracted private R&D interest.
"Agriculture is more dependent on scientific innovation than any other industry," said Catherine Woteki, USDA's chief scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "This study shows the great job that private industry is doing in research, much of which was built on the genetic technology USDA scientists have been working on for decades. It's crucial that we continue supporting this kind of R&D."
Additional findings in the Science article include:
• Globally, about half or more of all private investment in food and agricultural research and development have been devoted to food manufacturing, not toward input industries and other areas that directly increase agricultural production.
• Recent increases in private agricultural input research have mostly centered on crops, including farm machinery and some biofuels investments; livestock-related research and crop protection chemicals have experienced less growth.
• Research into biofuels has become increasingly important, with estimated global investments by private companies at approximately $1.47 billion in 2009.
• In both crop seed and animal breeding, biotechnology research was an important driver of consolidation in these industries.
• Private spending contributed to the overall growth in R&D for agricultural in the face of slowing or stagnant public R&D resources, but addressed a narrower set of research topics and input industries than publicly funded R&D.
• Public policies have a major influence on private-sector incentives to invest in agricultural research. Intellectual property protection, regulatory frameworks, and especially, public investments in basic science that opens up new technological opportunities, have been important drivers of the growth of private agricultural R&D.
Researchers also found that most of the growth in agricultural production over the past 50 years can largely be attributed to rising crop and livestock yields rather than to the expansion of acreage devoted to farming.