Nearly 150 years ago -- on July 2, 1862, just two months after the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- President Lincoln signed another historic measure, the Morrill Act, which created the land grant university system.
Over the years, land grant colleges and universities have had a tremendously positive impact on our nation, graduating more than 20 million students. And in partnership with USDA, more than 100 land-grant institutions and other research partners have helped conduct the groundbreaking research that remains the envy of the world.
It's important to understand the critical role this research has played in our nation's success.
Together, USDA and our partners have mapped the genome of soybeans, apples, pigs, and turkeys. We've created improved varieties of crops that are drought and flood-resistant. And we've helped producers protect the environment while increasing their bottom line.
Today research could not be timelier or more important. By supporting a strong agriculture sector, we're creating jobs both on and off the farm and driving a strong rural economy.
USDA research has helped today's producers to be the most productive in history -- ensuring a secure, home-grown food supply while enabling increased exports of American products around the world. Last year, America exported a record $137 billion in agricultural products and achieved a nearly $43 billion agricultural trade surplus, supporting more than one million American jobs.
President Obama and I know the importance of keeping up the pace of this innovation. With each dollar spent on agricultural research returning about 20 dollars worth of benefits to the economy, we've worked hard to strengthen USDA's research arm and we've strived to get the most value out of our funding.
We created the Office of the Chief Scientist to be sure USDA's research is coordinated with the work being done across the Federal government, as well as with our university and private partners.
We formed the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to strengthen Federal support for research and extension programs.
We've focused research programs on today's highest priority issues to achieve the greatest possible benefit for rural America and agriculture.
And in a time of tough budget choices, we've sought savings where appropriate while still investing in the future. For example, USDA has proposed increased investment next year for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which provides hundreds of grants per year for research projects at land-grant universities and other partner institutions.
We know the stakes are high -- and we know how important it is for this country to keep up our strong tradition of research and innovation.
So I want all Americans to know that we will not let up on the critical research that benefits all Americans while driving our economy. And we won't forget the historic partnerships we share with researchers around the country as we work to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world in the years to come.