When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Kansas City as the new home for two USDA research agencies, officials laid out an aggressive schedule to have everyone in place by today, the final day of fiscal 2019. The USDA has hired only a comparative handful of workers to stanch staff turnover that could exceed 75 percent and the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee says the disruption is affecting farm bill implementation.
With the USDA on the cusp of moving two research agencies to Kansas City, a senior official said on Thursday that massive staff turnover — so far, 250 employees have declined to leave Washington — is par for the course for cross-country relocations. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow offered a different take: “This is not a relocation. It’s a demolition.”
Hoping to dissuade Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, farm-state Democrats in Congress asked for a cost-benefit analysis that would justify moving two USDA research agencies out of Washington. Two senior Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee ridiculed the opposition to the relocation as elitism and knee-jerk obstructionism of President Trump.
The finalists in Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's plan to move two research agencies out of Washington include "multiple" undisclosed sites in Indiana, a symbol of complaints of hidden motives and scanty material to support the move. Separately, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, a perennial USDA research partner, said it feared relocation would damage the effectiveness of the grant-making National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
U.S. farmers and ranchers face a host of problems that could be solved or greatly curtailed by scientific innovation. But the federal government has largely abandoned its role as a leading funder of agricultural research and development, writes Alan Leshner, CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in The Hill.
Legislators and governors have scaled back funding for state universities in recent years, and one result is that industry funding has become more important, says the New Food Economy. “And with industry money comes industry priorities.”
The Bread Lab, a research institution at Washington State University that focuses on local grains, was awarded a $1.5-million endowment so that it can further its work breeding grains adapted to organic farming practices, Clif Bar announced.
Agricultural productivity growth is slowing down in the United States because of a decline in spending on food and ag research, says the free-market American Enterprise Institute, presenting a long-term threat to domestic food production and international competitiveness. The authors of an AEI position paper said funding on research and development should double and said it could be offset by cutting "wasteful farm bill spending" in crop insurance and crop subsidies.
The USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a program for competitive grants, is running on half of the money that was anticipated when Congress created AFRI 10 years ago, says a report by a group of ag researchers. "Federal investment in food sciences has remained flat as the number of threats to our food system continues to climb," said Thomas Grumbly of the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR). The groups says ag research should be a top priority in the 2018 farm bill.