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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension: Issues and Background

Melissa D. Ho
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area has the primary federal responsibility of advancing scientific knowledge for agriculture through research, education, and extension. USDA REE responsibilities are carried out by four agencies: the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The USDA administers extramural federal appropriations to states and local partners primarily through three funding mechanisms: formula funds, competitive grants, and non-competitive grant programs.

The FY2010 omnibus appropriations bill (P.L. 111-80) contained $2.838 billion in discretionary funds for USDA agricultural research, education, and extension programs. While inflationadjusted public spending for agricultural research grew steadily from the 1950s to the 1970s, it has remained relatively flat since the 1970s, with a few exceptions. The real annual inflationadjusted growth rate of the USDA research budget has declined over the past three decades, has surpassed inflation by less than 1%, and has lagged behind that of other national science agencies.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) provided $176 million to ARS for upgrading research infrastructure. The enacted 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) directed USDA to reorganize the REE mission area. The farm bill created a new entity called the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which assumed all programs and authorities from CSREES. A new competitive grants program for basic and applied research, called the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), was also established by the 2008 farm bill and is administered by NIFA. The farm bill also extends and expands mandatory and discretionary funding for specialty and organic crops research, bioenergy programs, and pollinator protection programs, among others.

On September 16, 2010, the Senate confirmed Dr. Catherine Woteki as USDA’s Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics. Dr. Woteki succeeds Dr. Rajiv Shah, who left USDA to head the U.S. Agency for International Development. On September 24, 2009, President Obama nominated Dr. Roger Beachy, founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, to serve as the first director of NIFA. Beachy joined NIFA on October 5.

Debates over the direction of public agricultural research and the nature of its funding mechanism continue. Ongoing issues include the need, if any, for new federal funding to support agricultural research, education, and extension activities, the implications of allocating federal funds via formula funds versus competitive grants, and the role of congressional earmarks. In addition, factors including the growing importance of specialty crops, international trade negotiations, and a renewed interest in international agricultural development have many groups believing that Congress needs to increase support of U.S. agriculture through expanded research, education, and extension programs, whereas others believe that the private sector, not taxpayer dollars, should be used to support these activities.

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R40819
Price: $29.95

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