The U.S. Virgin Islands may be a delightful place, but Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue doesn’t want to hear about them and particularly from their at-large delegate in the U.S. House, Stacey Plaskett.

Plaskett has been writing to the secretary regularly lately, in fact, two letters last week in her capacity as chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research.

And they were not letters praising the secretary, nor anything USDA has done for her and her constituents.

On June 27, she wrote: “At a time when farmers and ranchers are facing increasingly slim margins and adverse weather conditions, advancements in research and economic analysis are critical to ensuring those in the agriculture industry can remain competitive. Your proposal to relocate the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) will drastically impact USDA’s ability to efficiently and effectively serve struggling producers and rural communities.”

What spurred her ire was Perdue’s relocation order for ERS to move out of Washington to Kansas City. Of the 250 economists and researchers ordered to move by Sept. 30, 69% told their newly formed union they are not moving, and as many as 87% might not do so pending family circumstances. Last September, ERS had 319 full time employees at USDA facilities in Washington. The Trump administration proposed an FY 2020 budget for ERS was $60.5 million for only 160 staff.

The move-out order is apparently having the desired effect of cutting the agency in half, all because some of the reports generated by ERS that indicated some Trump administration policies were having negative impacts on agriculture.

Plaskett wrote, “If improving 'customer service' is your goal, we fail to see how undermining key research agencies better serves farmers, ranchers, consumers, and rural communities.” And she was not done.

On June 28, Plaskett took Perdue to task on media reports that USDA was burying climate research papers that were averse to administration policies.

“We write to express strong concern regarding recent reporting by Politico which outlines actions taken by officials at the USDA to suppress the dissemination of scientific information. Any effort by USDA to prevent the sharing of scientific information, particularly related to climate change, is an affront to the long-term success and economic viability of domestic farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. We hope this is not the case.”

A report in Washington, D.C.-based POLITICO found, “All of these studies were peer-reviewed by scientists and cleared through the non-partisan Agricultural Research Service. The research examined the wide-ranging effects of rising carbon dioxide, increasing temperatures and volatile weather.”

Plaskett wrote, “To ensure that your Department continues a long tradition of promoting scientific advancements that benefit farmers and ranchers, we request that you outline what steps your Department intends to take to protect the open and transparent dissemination of scientific information.”

Perdue may want to treat Plaskett with courtesy. She may be there a long time, since she was elected with nearly 98% of the vote.

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.


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