A week ago, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) to Kansas City. I thought this was a great decision. Kansas City is in the heart of U.S. agriculture as well as a great place to live. However, this was a pretty contentious issue when first announced last year. While I am not sure what the breakdown is on yeas and nays concerning the move, there was no lack of opinion on both sides. I read some of the comments including those from university professors, analytic firms doing what I do with Sterling Marketing, ERS current and former employees, politicians, lobbyists and others. Because of the opinion of one of the politicians I decided to write this article.
In our local newspaper following the announcement, a headline quickly caught my eye – “Merkley slams Trump, U.S. Department of Ag on relocating NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and ERS.” It was a statement released from Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) office. In the statement, Senator Merkley indicated “this announcement is yet another unacceptable chapter in the Trump administration’s ongoing attack against science. NIFA and ERS’s work is critical to top-flight research on topics ranging from agricultural economics, nutritional assistance and the impact of climate chaos on our farmers and ranchers. This relocation has the potential to damage agricultural research for years to come.”
My simple response to Senator Merkley’s statement is that agricultural economic research is best accomplished at ground zero where agricultural production occurs. Living and working in the middle of the majority of U.S. crop and livestock production is important – and close to America’s top-notch agriculture-based universities. Proximity is a big deal when analyzing the industry and I don’t mean proximity to the center of political power! I worked for ERS in Washington, D.C., and while I may have been educated in the politics as we analyzed the 1984 Farm Bill, it was my prior ranch experience combined with a sound master’s degree that provided a good foundation. Looking out the window onto 13th Avenue did not replace that ranch experience or growing up in a rural community defined by agriculture.
Senator Merkley, you speak about research on the “impact of climate chaos on farmers and ranchers.” Climate chaos on farmers and ranchers is the Oregon legislature’s Democrat majority’s attempt to pass Cap and Trade legislation in the state of Oregon with no regard for the truly negative impact on agricultural production in eastern Oregon. We need more ground-zero analysis of the impact of legislation on U.S. farmers and ranchers including from USDA. Moving ERS to Kansas City is the first step. Thank you Secretary Perdue!
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of John Nalivka, president, Sterling Marketing, Vale, Oregon.