On 31 January 2007, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns revealed the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposal to reauthorize the programs of the USDA (i.e., the 2007 farm bill). The massive plan, like the 2002 farm bill (PL 107-171) which is set to expire 30 September 2007, proposes ten titles that would outline U.S. domestic agricultural policies and reauthorize farm programs. These titles include commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, farm credit, rural development, research, forestry, and energy.

Overall, if enacted by Congress as proposed, the 2007 farm bill would spend approximately $10 billion less than the cost of the 2002 farm bill over the last five years (excluding ad-hoc disaster aid), mostly through significant changes to the commodity payment program. According to the USDA, the 2007 proposals would authorize approximately $5 billion more than the projected spending if the 2002 farm bill were extended.

The 2007 proposed legislation suggests significant changes to the USDA's research structure. Currently, the USDA has two separate agencies responsible for both basic and applied agricultural science. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts intramural research at 107 research locations across the country. The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) supports extramural programs including the National Research Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program and formula research grants that are distributed to land-grant universities. ARS and CSREES support similar research portfolios related to plant and animal systems, food and nutrition, and natural resources. The administration's proposal calls for the consolidation of ARS and CSREES into a single agency called the Research, Education, and Extension Service (REES) that would coordinate intramural as well as extramural research, education, and extension programs under the leadership of a chief scientist.

ARS and CSREES are located within the USDA's Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area along with the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Under the administration's proposal, REE would be renamed the Office of Science.

The proposal for greater research coordination in the administration's proposal echoes the recommendations made in 2006 by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) in CREATE-21 (Creating Research, Extension, and Teaching Excellence for the 21st Century). However, CREATE-21 suggested a more extensive integration of USDA research by calling for the consolidation of four agencies: ARS, CSREES, ERS, and U.S. Forest Service Research and Development.

In addition to restructuring the USDA research agencies, the administration's proposal would increase federal investment in high priority research areas like specialty crops and bio-fuels, and suggests a mandatory investment of $100 million per year to support scientific research on specialty crops. The plan would also provide a $50 million annual investment for the research and development of renewable fuels and bio-based products. Additionally, the 2007 farm bill research proposal would authorize the USDA to conduct research and diagnostics for highly infectious foreign animal diseases on mainland locations in the U.S and would invest $10 million in mandatory funding for organic farming research.

Congress has begun the process of developing its response, as have the broad array of USDA stakeholders. The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), has already held a number of farm bill-related hearings in the 110th Congress and has more scheduled, including a 7 March hearing on agricultural research. On 28 February, the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), reviewed USDA proposals for specialty crops and organic agriculture. A draft bill is expected by the August 2007 Congressional recess.

 


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