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Hearing Highlights Implications of ERS, NIFA Relocation for Agri Research

06 June 2019

US - During a hearing held yesterday by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, key stakeholders expressed concerns about the current and potential ramifications of reorganising and relocating two major agricultural research agencies.

In accordance with previous announcements, the US Department of Agriculture is continuing with plans to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside of the nation’s capital and realign ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE).

National Farmers Union (NFU), the nation’s oldest general farm organisation and a vocal proponent of public agricultural research, has objected to the proposal since it was first introduced last August. At the invitation of the committee, NFU President Roger Johnson submitted a statement for the record, reaffirming the organisation’s opposition.

"Between economic uncertainty, climate change, trade disputes, and a host of other issues, family farmers and ranchers are juggling more today than they ever have. Publicly-funded agricultural research, including that done by NIFA and ERS, is absolutely critical in ensuring that food producers have the data and tools they need to keep all these balls in the air.

"Yet as the need for federally-supported science grows, this proposal pulls the rug out from under the agencies who provide it. Already, USDA’s hasty approach has disrupted operations – as experienced researchers scramble to find new jobs, NIFA and ERS have both lost decades of institutional knowledge.

"This is bad enough, but the long-term consequences could be even more serious. By moving these agencies farther away from policy makers, we are concerned that their research will be devalued and their influence diminished. Similarly, we worry that reorganising ERS from under the Research, Education, and Economics mission area to the Office of the Chief Economist may undermine the scientific integrity and objectivity of its work.

"Farmers desperately need more objective, science-based research to face the many challenges of modern-day agriculture, but so far, USDA’s process has done just the opposite. We strongly oppose the relocation and reorganisation of these agencies, and we thank the Committee for bringing attention to this important issue."

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