By Hannah Packman, National Farmers Union Communications Director
A year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) abruptly relocated two of its major research agencies – the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service) – from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. The move forced dozens of experienced employees to quit, taking their expertise and institutional knowledge with them.
Despite efforts to fill vacant positions, NIFA and ERS are still both woefully understaffed. ERS has funding for 329 positions in total, 157 of which are current unfilled. The agency conducts research on a wide variety of subjects, including the farm economy, nutrition assistance, food safety, climate change, and rural development. NIFA – which funds food and agricultural research, education, and extension programs – is staffed at similar levels, with 140 of its 315 positions currently vacant.
There are concerns that these high levels of attrition could hinder ERS and NIFA’s operational capacity, diminishing the quality and quantity of the work they do. That could have ripple effects across the food system. When developing new policies and programs, legislators depend on ERS to make informed decisions. Without it, they could instead turn to industry-funded research or lobbyists, which would result in biased policies that may prioritize corporations over farmers, consumers, or the environment.
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