What did happen to agricultural science in the FY 2011 bill? Overall, USDA discretionary spending (which includes most agricultural research) fell by 14 percent from the FY 2010 enacted level. While it will be a few more weeks and perhaps a couple of months before we know the full ramifications for USDA programs of importance to plant pathology, we do know the overall program levels and a few early details of the FY 2011 appropriations.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research funding was cut by 10 percent and included the complete elimination of all funds for congressionally directed earmarks. In addition to this reduction, $230 million in funding for ARS buildings and facilities was eliminated. The cuts will affect as many as 30 ARS scientists and the elimination of most post-doctoral positions.
In addition to research programs at USDA, funding for the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was reduced by almost 5 percent. Almost 140 temporary positions will be eliminated at APHIS this fiscal year and many positions of retiring scientists will not be filled thereby increasing the workload for remaining staff.
As the dust is settling over the FY 2011 budget battle, it is clear that science programs (other than defense-related programs) will not be spared from funding cuts. Is the worst over? Unfortunately, this is the first round of what will likely be a series of bouts over the next few years. The recent downgrading of the US debt to “negative” is forcing Congress and the Administration to take severe measures to reign in the US budget. Already, Congress is discussing something akin to the 1980s Gramm-Rudman bill that enacted a “trigger mechanism” which led to automatic across-the-board funding cuts in discretionary programs when appropriations exceeded statutory levels. Given that the majority of government spending falls in mandatory programs and virtually all agricultural research falls in the “discretionary program” category, this could have dire consequences for agricultural science, extension, education, and plant protection programs. If we want agricultural research funding to avoid the draconian cuts looming in our future, each of us must take action to educate our members of Congress as to the importance of agricultural research.