Monday, May 06, 2019

USDA announces 3 finalists for ERS and NIFA location

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on May 3 announced three finalists for the potential new location of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

USDA has said the move will save money but has offered little information to support this view. Employees of the agency are demoralized by what they see as an effort to exert political control over research.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said:
Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.
The three finalist locations announced by USDA are:
  • Indiana. U.S. agricultural output ranked 10th (2.8% of national total). Leading products are corn, soybeans, and hogs. Won by President Trump in 2016 with 57% of the vote.
  • Kansas. U.S. agricultural output ranked 7th (4.2% of national total). Leading products are cattle, corn, and soybeans. Won by President Trump in 2016 with 57% of the vote.
  • North Carolina. U.S. agricultural output ranked 8th (3.1% of national total). Leading products are chicken, hogs, and turkey. Won by President Trump in 2016 with 50% of the vote.
Just for comparison, the biggest agricultural state is not on the list:
  • California. U.S. agricultural output ranked 1st (13.5% of total). Leading products are dairy, produce, grapes, almonds, and strawberries. Lost by President Trump in 2016 with 33% of the vote.
The USDA definition of "closer to stakeholders" may have in mind a particular vision of U.S. agriculture, heavy on meat and animal feed production. Along with farmers, other important USDA stakeholders are food manufacturers, food retailers, and food consumers in all parts of the country. Approximately 80% of the department's budget is for U.S. nutrition assistance programs. Critical issues for the department in the next several years include supporting farm incomes, protecting the labor rights of farmworkers, supporting rural and urban food economies, promoting nutrition in a time of rising insurance costs, and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I am not persuaded that the proposed move will achieve its stated objectives of saving taxpayer funds and helping USDA better serve its most important stakeholders. I hope USDA can keep in mind all of its important public purposes.