The Benefits of Public Investment in Agricultural Research from a US Perspective

Authors: Rubenstein, Kelly Day; Heisey, Paul W.; King, John L.

Source: Outlooks on Pest Management, Volume 22, Number 6, December 2011 , pp. 271-274(4)

Publisher: Research Information

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Agriculture is a science-based industry. Nearly all productivity improvements are the result of research and development (R&D), whether they be mechanical (eg farm equipment), biological (eg plant and animal varieties) or management related (eg integrated pest management). Individual agricultural producers are unlikely to reach the scale of production needed to recover R&D costs, which means most of the science applied to agriculture is developed by public research institutions or private companies. Much of the science used in agriculture comes from the life sciences. Plant and animal varieties need resistance to pests and diseases, and tolerance to non-biological stresses such as drought and heat. Some stressors can be managed physically or chemically (eg irrigation or crop protection with pesticides). Even in these cases, understanding the biological basis of how plants, animals, and pests will respond is essential to efficient management. The US agricultural research system illustrates many of the complexities that characterize research systems worldwide. Measuring the benefits of agricultural research is subject to many methodological and practical difficulties, in part because of the multiplicity of research institutions and in part because public goods outputs of research institutions are inherently difficult to discern. Individual research projects and programs pose more complexities for measurement than agricultural research taken as a whole. When R&D is aggregated, the payoffs to public agricultural research are large, and these payoffs have been confirmed in most of the studies that have addressed the issue. Public agricultural research is also complementary to private research – in other words, it tends to raise returns to private research. Thus, reductions in investment in public agricultural research may lead to lower growth in agricultural productivity, higher prices for agricultural products, and elevated environmental costs as pressure to expand cropland would intensify. The complementarity between public and private agricultural research means private research institutions would find it increasingly difficult to fill the gaps left by lower public investment. Furthermore, in addition to the indirect contribution of public research to reducing environmental damage by raising agricultural productivity, public research is also more likely to address directly research topics in the areas of environmental protection and nutrition-related human health.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2011

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