Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said increasing government spending on agriculture research should be a top priority for the federal government as lawmakers in Congress craft their ongoing response to food security issues.
The Republican senator met with agricultural industry leaders, including from Bayer and Purdue University, during a panel talk on Tuesday at Tom Farms in Leesburg, a rural farm community just north of Warsaw.
The farm — one of the largest in Indiana — is owned by mega-farmer and former U.S. Ambassador Kip Tom, who moderated the discussion.
Addressing food shortages
Panelists emphasized that the world’s food system is under increasing pressure due to supply chain issues affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, severe weather events, and high fertilizer costs.
Rising input costs for farmers translates to higher prices for consumers at grocery stores and creates additional challenges for mitigating record levels of global hunger.
Tom said those issues have increased the need for the U.S. to invest in agricultural research and development.
“We’ve relied heavily on the private sector in the past, but we need to get the government involved in some of these activities,” said Tom, who ran an unsuccessful GOP bid for the U.S. House in 2016 and later served on a Trump agricultural advisory committee. “We can help prevent another further food crisis.”
He noted that the country’s public investment in agricultural research has declined since 2003, putting U.S. trade and competitiveness at risk. Agriculture is particularly important to Indiana, where the sector contributes $31.2 billion to the state’s economy.
When asked about the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill, Braun said lawmakers haven’t talked enough about food security issues but maintained that would be part of his focus as discussions within the Senate Agricultural Committee continue.
He said the bill will originate in the House and focus primarily on nutrition, conservation and “securing the food supply.”
“When it comes to the Farm Bill, I don’t expect any drama,” Braun said, adding that he wished lawmakers in the Senate would have started the bill’s crafting sooner. “(The emphasis is) putting that long-term research and development into things that are going to increasingly allow us to get more out of the acres.”
Braun continued that investment by businesses, whether towards agriculture or manufacturing, “has got to be part of our GDP.”
The senator praised companies like Bayer for investing in agricultural advancement “the old-fashioned way – not borrowing.” Jackie Applegate, President of Bayer Crop Science North America, said Tuesday that the company invested $2 billion in agricultural research and development in 2021.
“Because when you’re consuming, you’re living off the merits of the past. We need to start spending less on things we consume, and spend double, triple, quadruple on investment through the federal government,” Braun said. “Sadly, that’s not the focus. If we don’t do it, you’re going to have other major players across the world who do do it.”
Braun spares specifics on potential Walorski replacement
Last week, Braun and his colleague from Indiana, Sen. Todd Young, joined other Republicans in voting against the Inflation Reduction Act. President Joe Biden signed the sweeping $750 billion bill — which also addresses health care and climate change — into law at the White House on Tuesday.
U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, was originally scheduled to speak at the event. An empty chair adorned with the Indiana flag and other mementos memorialized the congresswoman at the Tuesday talk following her unexpected death earlier this month. A handful of Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District have filed to run for the seat, vying to fill the vacancy during a caucus later this week.
“She’s going to be hard to replace,” Braun told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “I think from the names I’ve heard, we’re going to get a good replacement.”
Panelists also fielded questions about land depletion from some Hoosier farmers who attended the talk. Concerns were raised that solar farms and population spread are eating into the state’s farmland.
Karen Plaut, Dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture, pointed to ongoing research at the land-grant university to put solar panels in the air, which still lets farmers grow crops underneath.
“Those are some of the types of solutions that research and development can bring for the future,” Plaut said.
Braun agreed, saying that increasing funding for “common sense” innovations will help bridge relationships between farmers, academic institutions and private businesses.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.