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USDA relocations limit surveys, farmers’ confidence

BELLLE PLINE, There are. (AP) – More than a year later, two State Department research agencies moved from the state capital to Kansas City, Missouri, forcing mass emigration of workers who could not or did not want to relocate. Halfway through the country, they remain extremely underemployed, and some farmers are less confident in the work they produce.

In September 2019, the decision to move the Economic Research Service to the National Institute of Agriculture’s Food could have brought them closer to the country’s bakery farmers, although much of their work involves advising members of Congress in Washington. Following the announcement of the transfer, then-President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Malvani joked that relocating jobs to Kansas City was a “wonderful way to improve government.”

Tom Wilsack inherited the immoral workforce in both agencies when he became Secretary of Agriculture under President Biden. With 235 vacancies among them, agencies continued to hire during the epidemic փոփոխ change of administration, but they hired jobs that were smaller և less frequent, leaving some farmers looking elsewhere for data they trusted with their operations.

Among them is Vance Ehmke, who said that since the USDA relocation, he has paid much more attention to the analysis of the private market – what private grain companies do. Information feeds his decisions, from buying more land or building more grain bins from a new tractor.

“Here, when we need really good, hard information, you really start questioning groups like the USDA that used to have a great reputation,” Ehmke said recently. “But in the country, people are worried about how good the information is now, because those groups are operating at half capacity.”

The transfer hampered years of specialized experience, delayed or disrupted some agency research, and other work. Hiring in the Kansas City area remains far below the estimated 550 high-paying jobs expected by local leaders.

Farmers rely on research to make decisions on a range of topics, from rural community planning to agricultural work in volatile climate change.

The ERS examines issues such as agriculture, international trade, food security, and food aid programs for poor Americans. At the same time, NIFA provides grants for agricultural research and other agricultural services.

“Now, in general, it has gone in the wrong direction in terms of accuracy,” said Adrian Polanski, a former executive director of the USDA’s Office of Pharmacy in Kansas during the Obama administration. “Whether it was definitely based on that transition, whether it was the leadership of the department, what the political goals could be, I am not sure. But it seems that the reliability was less. “

Polanski said he was now looking for commercial sources of agricultural information to verify USDA data more often than he had previously done. He said that even after the agencies open their gaps, it will take time to “become fully effective” as the research is a long-term job.

“When you lose significant staff, significant institutional knowledge, there is simply no way you can influence USDA product և information,” he said.

Dan O’Brien, a grain market research and development specialist at Kansas State University, acknowledged that farmers have become increasingly questionable about the reliability of government agricultural data over the past few years. However, he said that these frustrations have more to do with reports published by other USDA agencies և some farmers may confuse them.

Laura Dodson, a spokeswoman for ERS, said the move would affect the agency for another five years. This did not affect the accuracy of his reports, but did reduce their frequency: frequency.

Dozens of ERS reports were either late or not included at all, including reports on organic food, the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, farm workers, and labor markets, Dodson said. For example, a two-year research project on bee pollinators was shut down as the entire team left the agency before moving to Kansas City.

Dodson says the ERS released 37 reports in 2018, up from 11 the previous year. These figures do not include monthly crop price analysis reports, which have remained fairly stable despite the resettlement epidemic. The agency also published 100 articles in academic journals in 2018 related to their fields of study, but only 64 in 2020.

“We help ensure that food is produced safely, responds in a timely manner to market changes, and changes in the environment,” he said. “And so, if they become less effective because they are not aware of good data, research, it will directly translate into how Americans get their food.”

USDA spokesman Matt Herrick said in an email that he could not comment on the diversity of ERS reports և research volumes: under the Trump administration. “However, when you lose more than half of your experienced workforce, you will certainly have a noticeable impact,” he added, noting that the USDA is focused on restoring employee confidence and morale.

When former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue toured Kansas City’s new headquarters in November 2019, he predicted that the agencies would be fully staffed by the first quarter of 2020. That did not happen.

In October 2016, before Trump’s first year in office, the ERS had 318 permanent employees, according to the USDA. By October 2019, just one month after moving, its workforce had shrunk to 164. As of the end of January 2021, it had 219 employees, including 67 still in Washington.

The same trend was reflected in NIFA, which in October 2016 had 320 employees. In October 2019, it fell to 112 employees, although at the end of January it returned slightly, reaching 218, including 16 in Washington.

“The best I can say is that they were leaking information that Trump really did not like to hear, such as global climate change and things like that,” Ehmke said. “And this is what we do with such groups in the United States. We can not send them to Siberia, so we send them to Kansas City. “

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