March 08, 2018

Van Hollen, Hirono Introduce Legislation to Clear Maintenance Backlog, Improve Agricultural Research Facilities

Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) have introduced legislation to address the significant modernization needs in schools of agriculture and the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS)facilities. Agriculture schools across the country face a combined $8.4 billion maintenance backlog. In Maryland, a number of universities would be eligible for funding made available in this legislation, including the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.In addition, ARS facilities across the nation, including the country's largest facility located in Beltsville, Maryland, would be eligible and face a combined $1 billion maintenance backlog.

The AuGmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act would establish competitive grants to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

"Agricultural research has been essential to successful farming in Maryland and throughout the country, and this legislation will help us maintain our competitive edge," Senator Van Hollen said. "We must provide the funding to maintain and modernize these programs in our colleges and training facilities and ensure America remains a leader in agricultural production."

"On behalf of the University of Maryland, I want to thank Senators Van Hollen and Hirono for their commitment to this important issue. We have witnessed the steady decline of agricultural research facilities at land-grant universities across the country, and we require improvements to stay competitive globally and ensure a safe and secure food supply while protecting our precious natural resources and the environment," said Dr. Craig Beyrouty, Dean and Director of UMD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "This bill provides assurances to fund renovations, helping to bring our research facilities up to modern-day expectations. Our agricultural community faces new challenges on a weekly basis, and they deserve only the best from the research arm of our college."

"As Hawaii's agricultural community continues to face new threats caused by climate change and invasive species, it's critical that our agricultural workforce has the tools necessary to meet these challenges,"Senator Hirono said. "For decades, these schools have had to choose between funding research and updating facilities-the AG RESEARCH Act wouldprovide much-needed financial relief so that our nation's best and brightest can conduct the cutting-edge research necessary to maintain our global leadership in agriculture."

"In 2015 the Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA) of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) published a report entitled 'Infrastructure & Deferred Maintenance at Schools of Agriculture.' The report estimated that over $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance existed.The BAA of APLU supports efforts, such as this measure, the AG RESEARCH Act, to address the deteriorated state of campus infrastructure in order to conduct 21stcentury research and education which will allow the US to maintain our competitive advantage in agriculture.This is a critical aspect of our nation's capacity that must be attended to," Ian Maw, PhD, Vice President -- Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said.

The AG RESEARCH Act would establish a U.S. Department of Agriculture one-to-one matching competitive grant program for schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating, or remodeling research facilities and equipment. Priority would be given to projects that are shovel-ready or incorporate renewable energy or energy/water-efficient technologies. The bill would also authorize the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for maintenance of ARS research facilities, with priority given to the most critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy. The AG RESEARCH Act is also co-sponsored by Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Full text of the bill can be found here.