Sen. Hirono Addresses Deferred Maintenance at Schools of Agriculture

April 29, 2019, 8:10 AM HST (Updated April 29, 2019, 8:10 AM)
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Earlier this month, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, along with nine of her colleagues, sent a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, (NIFA) for grants to address deferred maintenance at agricultural research facilities. This funding request supports the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Budget Request, which for the first time allocates funding to address this critical need.

“U.S. agriculture makes up 5.5% of our nation’s economy, supports 11% of U.S. jobs, and each American home spends an average of 12.9% of its household expenditures on food,” the Senators wrote. “There is no denying the importance of agricultural production and innovation to our economy and food security both here and abroad, with our agriculture-related exports doubling between 2006 and 2014. With increasing international trade it is important that U.S. colleges and universities maintain the facilities needed to provide 21st century research and education opportunities that will help the U.S. to remain globally competitive.”

“Deferred maintenance at agriculture research facilities on campuses and research stations continues to be an obstacle for land grant universities as we seek solutions to the country’s pressing problems affecting food production and environmental health,” Nicholas Comerford, dean and director of the University of Hawai‘i (UH) College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), said. “The advocacy of Senator Hirono and others is a welcome step to help the University of Hawa‘ii-Mānoa meet its mission.”

“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,” Doug Steele, PhD, vice president of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said. “The report estimated that over $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance existed. We appreciate that now both the Administration’s budget and Congressional Leaders recognize this need. The BAA of APLU supports efforts to address the deteriorated state of campus infrastructure in order to conduct 21st century research and education which will allow the U.S. to maintain our competitive advantage in agriculture. This is a critical aspect of our nation’s capacity that must be attended to,”

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Section 7503 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, established a competitive grant program within NIFA to address deferred maintenance at agricultural research facilities. The President’s FY 2020 Budget Request for the USDA included specific language requesting $50 million for this new grant program, which will update aging infrastructure and fix equipment at land-grant universities. These infrastructure investments will help ensure American agriculture’s global preeminence and competitiveness, directly impact the quality of science, and ensure safety in the classroom and experiment stations.

Securing funding to address deferred maintenance at schools of agriculture has been a priority for Sen. Hirono, who has previously led letters both highlighting the critical need to the administration and requesting funding during past fiscal years from Senate appropriators. She also introduced S.2479, the Augmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-Edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act last Congress, which included the establishment of a competitive grant program within NIFA to address deferred maintenance at schools of agriculture.

Sen. Hirono was joined on the letter by her U.S. Senate colleagues Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable John Hoeven
Chairman
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural
Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Jeff Merkley
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural
Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley:

As your subcommittee considers its fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bill, we write to request your support for funding the Research Facilities Act which was amended and reauthorized by section 7503 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka 2018 farm bill). The Research Facilities Act establishes a competitive grant program to help address the escalating maintenance needs of decaying infrastructure at U.S. schools of agriculture. This important initiative was also recognized in the President’s FY 2020 Budget with a proposal to provide $50 million for Competitive Facility Grants at Land-Grant Universities and we ask that you support that funding request for this urgent infrastructure need.

Addressing our nation’s infrastructure needs is a stated priority of this administration and we believe that investing in our U.S. schools of agriculture fits squarely within that objective. The significant maintenance backlog was highlighted in a 2015 study commissioned by the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) and conducted by Sightlines, LLC. The APLU-supported study, in which 91 colleges and universities from all across the country participated, concluded that the infrastructure needs for over 15,000 facilities total $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance. The study went on to find that when schools of agriculture were broken up by their typical geographic regions (Western, Southern, North Central, and Northeast), no region was consistently providing sufficient resources to address the deferred maintenance backlog. If investment in maintenance were to continue at or below current levels then deferred maintenance costs will continue to skyrocket over the next decade.

It is imperative that the research infrastructure at U.S. schools of agriculture, much of which was built in the 1950s and 1960s, is maintained to allow for cutting-edge research and education activities. The APLU-supported study found that if investment for infrastructure needs is not increased in the future, then classrooms, scientific research, greenhouses, pilot facilities, animal care, extension and support buildings will suffer from cracked foundations, leaky roofs, failing HVAC/plumbing/electrical systems, nonfunctioning laboratories, etc. The level of cutting-edge research required for the U.S. to remain a global leader in agriculture cannot be conducted in such facilities, and quality facilities are also essential to attracting and training the next generation of agricultural professionals.

U.S. agriculture makes up 5.5 percent of our nation’s economy, supports 11 percent of U.S. jobs, and each American home spends an average of 12.9 percent of its household expenditures on food. There is no denying the importance of agricultural production and innovation to our economy and food security both here and abroad, with our agriculture-related exports doubling between 2006 and 2014. With increasing international trade it is important that U.S. colleges and universities maintain the facilities needed to provide 21st century research and education opportunities that will help the U.S. to remain globally competitive.

For these reasons there is a strong federal interest in maintaining these facilities, which are also home to billions of dollars of research funded by USDA. We ask that in your FY2020 Appropriations bill you address this critical need by providing $50 million for the Research Facilities Act. Funding for this competitive grant program will allow USDA to begin the process of addressing the escalating maintenance needs of decaying infrastructure at U.S. schools of agriculture.

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