Hirono co-introduces legislation to fund ag research

The Garden Island

WASHINGTON — There’s an estimated backlog of $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance and modernization needed at various agricultural-research facilities, including the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in Manoa and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service facilities.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the AG RESEARCH Act to address the multi-billion-dollar backlog.

The Augmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful Act would create competitive grants to be administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

“Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry faces ongoing threats like climate change and invasive species,” said Hirono. “Now more than ever, we must make certain that schools like the University of Hawai‘i have the tools and resources to continue conducting cutting-edge research,” she said. “The AG RESEARCH Act provides overdue investments that will continue America’s global agricultural leadership.”

The AG RESEARCH Act would provide competitive grants to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating or remodeling research facilities and equipment. The USDA secretary is directed to distribute the grants equitably based on geography, diversity and size of institutions. The bill would also allow the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for continued maintenance of ARS facilities, with priority given to the most-critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

“We deeply appreciate Sen. Hirono’s leadership to support critical agricultural research that addresses community health, food security and food safety,” said Nicholas Comerford, dean, UH CTAHR. “Such research is dependent on state-of-the-art facilities as well as the creativity of scientists. Support to modernize these facilities is tremendously needed and welcome.”

An initial report in 2015 estimated the deferred-maintenance backlog at schools of agriculture to be $8.4 billion, with a total replacement cost of $29 billion. The report warned that without significant federal investment, the need would continue to grow. An updated report published earlier this year found just that, with the need now totaling at least $11.5 billion, with a total replacement cost of $38.1 billion.

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