Paper authored by: Peter Reeves, Director, Product Management-Data Sophie Mason, Senior Account Manager Luke Sanders, Data Analyst
Why study deferred maintenance at colleges and schools of agriculture? The importance of agriculture to the prosperity and well-being of the United States cannot be overstated. Society faces immense challenges today, including climate change and economic disruption, which threaten access to safe, affordable food. Our agriculture research enterprise has risen to meet these challenges, consistently increasing productivity and access over the years.2 Colleges and schools of agriculture conduct cutting-edge basic and applied research while educating and training the next generation of agricultural scientists, business leaders, educators and producers. Every year, land-grant universities graduate more than 36,000 students in food, agricultural and natural resources disciplines. In 2019, agriculture and related industries contributed over $1.09 trillion to the U.S. GDP, 5.2% of the total GDP.3 Our agricultural industry is responsible for 22.2 million jobs or 11% of U.S. employment.3 Food accounts for 13% of the average American household’s expenditure in 2019, behind only housing and transportation.
The success of U.S. food and agricultural industries can be attributed in large part to the advancements made in the research, education and Extension programs at colleges and schools of agriculture throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides $1.57 billion annually in funding and grant programs for these extramural activities.This commitment is an acknowledgment of the grand challenges that colleges and schools of agriculture address through research, education and Extension. These challenges include food security and safety, climate variability and change, water availability and quality, the creation of a thriving bioeconomy (bioenergy and bio-based products) and combatting childhood obesity.
Colleges and schools of agriculture train the next generation of scientists, producers and educators to undertake both discovery-oriented and applied research to address these challenges. LGU faculty and staff conduct breakthrough research, training, and outreach in critical challenge areas related to biosecurity and pest/disease control, plant and animal genetics, climate soil resources, microbiomes, natural resource and forest management, bioeconomy development and food nutrition and access. Innovations, decision analytics and behavioral changes developed through research and education activities are then put in the hands of the people who need them most—farmers, communities, and our food and agricultural entrepreneurs—through effective rural and urban Extension programs. Yet the cost of the deferred maintenance in buildings and facilities at colleges and schools of agriculture threatens to undermine the success of our public institutions in meeting these public mission mandates.
Researchers and educators now perform 21st century science and education in facilities constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. These buildings and facilities—which are at the foundation of our nation’s food, fuel, and fiber security and at the starting point of food and agricultural innovations—have not received capital infrastructure investment sufficient to avoid leaky roofs or to update air circulation and HVAC systems. The findings of this study reinforce an urgent call for federal investment in agricultural research infrastructure at our nation’s colleges and schools of agriculture. As we describe in this study, federal investment would drive both short-term and long-term economic growth. We anticipate that 200,000 new local jobs will result from investment in capital infrastructure to address the deferred maintenance at colleges and schools agriculture.