Last month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that two U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies will be moving their headquarters to the Kansas City region: ERS, the Economic Research Service and NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This is a big win for the agencies and the important work they do to help U.S. farmers and ranchers feed and fuel the world.
Recently, some people have begun peddling the notion that scientific research will suffer by moving these agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Midwest. This is as ridiculous as it sounds. Only inside the beltway could moving two farm agencies to the heart of farm country be seen as a conspiracy to undermine their work. In fact, what this move will do is put these agencies closer to the people they serve and to the leading research institutions that support their mission.
Kansas City is close to at least a dozen land grant universities, including the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas and Lincoln University. Twenty-two of Missouri’s colleges and universities offer degrees or certificates in ag-related fields. ERS and NIFA will benefit from the pipeline of talented young scientists and researchers at these schools, and they’ll have access to top-notch faculty with decades of knowledge and experience in the field.
For example, the University of Missouri is home to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, which provides objective analysis of issues related to agricultural markets and policies and is well known for its farm economy projections. It has for decades provided critical economic analysis to the congressional agriculture committees as they create and modify Farm Bill programs. ERS has a similar mission: to “conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision making.” Bringing together two groups of researchers with a common goal can only lead to a stronger product and better advice for policymakers.
The great work that’s happening at our universities is supported by hundreds of industry partners who have made Missouri a hub for ag innovation. St. Louis has more plant scientists than any other single location in the world and is home to more than 1,000 plant science PhDs.
Our state is also a big part of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, which extends from Manhattan, Kansas, to Columbia, Missouri. The corridor counts more than 300 animal health companies, the largest concentration in the world. That includes five of the largest of these companies in the world.
Together, research institutions and private sector partners are taking on some of the biggest challenges facing the ag industry, and they’re doing it with help from the USDA.
NIFA’s primary responsibility is to direct federal funding toward ag research and education institutions that are developing solutions to major issues like food insecurity, sustainability, production and workforce demands. In 2018, NIFA provided more than $36 million in competitive grants for research at 14 Missouri sites. This move will bring the agency closer to the work that’s being done by grantees, so it can evaluate which programs are working and where continued federal investment will drive innovation and the future of agriculture.
The challenges and opportunities in the ag sector have never been greater than they will be in the next 25 years. NIFA recently awarded a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development grant to University of Missouri Extension to help prepare the next generation of farmers. MU Extension works with the Brain Injury Association of Missouri and the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help farm in De Soto, Missouri, to fill in the gaps for beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, military veteran farmers and farmers with disabilities and brain injury. Being closer to land grant colleges like MU, Kansas State University and their partner organizations can help NIFA experts build on their knowledge and understanding of the needs of agriculture and food production.
In the Kansas City area, NIFA funded a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program grant that helped local farmers launch a marketing cooperative to get their natural beef products into local supermarkets. A second grant allowed them to look at consumer demand for natural beef in retail markets, contributing to a 33% increase in sales.
In farm states like Missouri, ERS and NIFA can have a big impact on how farmers and ranchers operate every day and how they’ll move into the future. We’re incredibly fortunate to have them joining more than 5,000 USDA employees and contractors who already call our area home. It’s the right move for ag research, and I look forward to working with the USDA to make it a success.