A few short weeks from now, in Oct­ober, the weeklong World Food Prize event will begin in Des Moines, and many of the "Grand Chal­­lenges" of agriculture will once again receive welcome attention:

1) A near doubling of the world’s population in the next 40 years.

2) A shrinking supply of arable land, accessible water and non-degraded soils.

3) New virulent pests and diseases, which have the capacity to ravage crop and animal production;.

4) Increasing climate variability, resulting in more difficult growing conditions, greater soil erosion and reduced yields.

Given the severity and increasing immediacy of these well-known grand challenges, you might imagine a significant in­­crease in federal agricultural research funds. If so, you would be wrong.

In 1985, federal agricultural re­­search funds came to $1.9 billion. In 1995, it increased to $2.2 billion. In 2005, it stood at $2.9 billion.

And in 2016, as these grand challenges seem ever more pressing? In 2016, federal ag research funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture...