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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension: Issues and Background


Dennis A. Shields
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 FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-55, H.R. 2112) contained $2.53 billion in discretionary funds for USDA agricultural research, education, and extension programs. While inflation-adjusted 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), and growth in funding has lagged behind that of other national science agencies.

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 the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (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. Several mandatory programs (research and otherwise) that were authorized in the 2008 farm bill do not have a budget baseline that extends beyond the end of the 2008 farm bill (September 30, 2012). If policymakers want to continue these programs in the next farm bill, they will need to pay for them with other offsets.

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, and the implications of allocating federal funds via formula funds versus competitive grants. 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.

While the 2008 farm bill provided a significant funding boost for agricultural research, relatively speaking, it is unclear whether budgetary resources and political will can sustain funding for agricultural research and related activities.



Date of Report: March 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R40819
Price: $29.95

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