LEESBURG — Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said increasing public spending on agricultural research should be a top priority for the federal government as congressional lawmakers craft their continued response to food security concerns.
The Republican senator met with agriculture industry leaders, including from Bayer and Purdue University, at a roundtable Tuesday at Tom Farms in Leesburg, a rural farming community just north of Warsaw.
The farm – one of the largest in Indiana – is owned by mega-farmer and former US ambassador Kip Tom, who moderated the discussion.
Coping with food shortages
Panelists highlighted that the global food system is under increasing pressure due to supply chain issues affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, severe weather and high fertilizer costs.
Rising input costs for farmers translate into higher prices for consumers at grocery stores and create additional challenges to alleviate record levels of hunger around the world.
Tom said these issues have increased the need for the United States to invest in agricultural research and development.
“We’ve relied heavily on the private sector in the past, but we have to involve the government in some of these activities,” said Tom, who pitched an unsuccessful GOP bid for the US House in 2016 and later served on a Trump. agricultural advisory committee. “We can help prevent another food crisis.”
He noted that the nation’s public investment in agricultural research has declined since 2003, endangering U.S. commerce and competitiveness. Agriculture is particularly important to Indiana, where the sector contributes $31.2 billion to the state’s economy.
Asked about the upcoming 2023 farm bill, Braun said lawmakers haven’t talked enough about food safety issues, but argued that would be part of his focus as discussions in the Senate Committee on Agriculture agriculture continue.
He said the bill would come from the House and focus primarily on nutrition, conservation and “securing the food supply”.
“As far as the Farm Bill is concerned, I don’t expect any drama,” Braun said, adding that he wishes Senate lawmakers had started crafting the bill sooner. “(The focus is) on long-term research and development into things that will increasingly allow us to get the most out of the acres.”
Braun continued that business investment, whether in agriculture or manufacturing, “must be part of our GDP.”
The senator praised companies like Bayer for investing in advancing agriculture “the old-fashioned way – without borrowing.” Jackie Applegate, president of Bayer Crop Science North America, said Tuesday that the company has invested $2 billion in agricultural research and development in 2021.
“Because when you consume, you live on the merits of the past. We need to start spending less on the things we consume and spending double, triple, quadruple on investments through the federal government,” Braun said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the goal. If we don’t, you will have other major players around the world who will.
Braun elaborates on potential Walorski replacement
Last week, Braun and fellow Indiana Sen. Todd Young joined other Republicans in voting against the Cut Inflation Act. President Joe Biden signed the $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-2e, was originally scheduled to speak at the event. An empty chair adorned with the Indiana flag and other memorabilia commemorated the congresswoman at Tuesday’s conference following her unexpected death earlier this month. A handful of Republicans from the 2nd congressional district have filed 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 have a good replacement.”
Panelists also answered questions about land depletion from some Hoosier farmers who attended the conference. Concerns have been raised that solar farms and the spreading population are eating away at farmland in the state.
Karen Plaut, dean of Purdue University College of Agriculture, pointed to ongoing research at the land-grant university to put solar panels in the air, which still allows farmers to grow crops below.
“These are some of the kinds of solutions that research and development can provide for the future,” Plaut said.
Braun agreed, saying increased funding for “common sense” innovations will help build connections between farmers, academic institutions and private companies.