While it may be located outside the Beltway, the new headquarters for the USDA Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture has a familiar address — Pennsylvania Avenue.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue toured the future home of these two departments Friday in downtown Kansas City, Mo., along with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Congressman Roger Marshall and Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn.
Perdue has been criticized for moving the agencies. However, he reaffirmed his position, saying he has “zero regret” for choosing Missouri as the location for these two departments.
“The Economic Research Service and NIFA were the only two agencies that were not represented outside of D.C.,” he said. “Ninety percent of the USDA workforce is outside of the city. NIFA and the ERS were not, but now they will be here in the heartland.”
For Perdue, the move is about what he calls ground truthing. “If you’re doing facts-based, data-driven research, you have to talk to people,” he said. “I think you’re going to find more people here in this region that know about agriculture.”
Visiting with farmers, he added, will help these departments make better decisions and policies. Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn agrees.
A fifth-generation farmer from Clarence, Mo., Chinn finds a disconnect between Washington. D.C., and rural America.
“You know, if you ask a farmer, have you ever talked to anybody from NIFA or ERS, they're going to say no,” she said. “But having them here in the heartland, now they're going to be out in part of our community. They're going to have a bigger opportunity to actually meet a farmer and talk to a farmer and say, ‘Hey, what's a challenge you have on your farm that you need us to help you find a solution to?’”
Chinn added that having the agencies relocated to the Midwest is a huge win for the entire agriculture sector, including agribusiness.
NEW ADDRESS: The new location of the USDA NIFA and ERS is 805 Pennsylvania Ave. in downtown Kansas City, Mo. The Missouri River is close by.
From Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan, Kan., to Lincoln, Neb., the area is known as the animal health corridor, accounting for more than 50% of the total worldwide animal health diagnostic and pet food sales. It is made up of more than 300 companies.
For Marshall, who represents the Kansas City area, NIFA and ERS will only add to the talent and research happening, making the area “the world's leading corridor in agriculture research as well.”
For the future
Blunt praised Perdue for making a decision and sticking to it. He said the USDA is positioned to have access to the future of research.
Within a three-hour drive, there are nine land-grant universities in the region. In Missouri alone, there are 22 schools that have agriculture programs.
“I don't think, Mr. Secretary, you're going to have a problem with attracting the kind of new research you need to have with the incredible change that's about to occur in agriculture,” Blunt said. “World food demand is going to double between now and 2060, and so all the thousands of years of agriculture up to now, we're going to have to figure out how to double that in one working lifetime, and that's going to take research. It's going to take science. It's going to take what's going to happen here.”
Congress has given the USDA direct hiring authority. The department held a job expo last week. There are 107 jobs posted, and there are more than 6,000 applications.
Perdue says he would like the new Kansas City location to be fully staffed by the first quarter of 2020.