Updated Aug. 22, 2018 — Two research arms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be moving out of Washington, D.C. Three of Missouri’s U.S. representatives and one from Kansas said Kansas City is the perfect place for those agencies.
Republicans Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves and Democrat Emanuel Cleaver sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week, lobbying for him to relocate the 600-plus employees of the National Institute of Food and the Economic Research Service to the Kansas City area. Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder followed with one of his own on Wednesday.
Their news release cited a large workforce, lower rent and utility costs and lots of interstate access. The National Bio and Agro-defense Facility will be close, too, with the facility on Kansas State University's campus expected to open in 2022.
Hartzler told KCUR on Friday that the NBAF is also a factor, as well as having two USDA agency headquarters in Kansas City already: the Farm Services Agency and the Risk Management Agency.
There’s also the city’s proximity to several public research schools, which she said “makes sense” to move the agencies closer to the research.
“We are right in the center of agriculture country, and we are within 300 miles of six land-grant universities, which produce the students that could fill these jobs. They are graduate-level jobs and many of them are PhDs dealing with agriculture, economics and research,” Hartzler said. “And that is what our land-grant universities specialize in, and they often administer the grants from these agencies that deal with research in various areas.”
Perdue announced the move last week, saying it’d save the USDA money, help them attract a better workforce and put the programs closer to their stakeholders. The ERS looks at trends and issues, while NIFA works on long-term agricultural initiatives.
It isn’t clear when the move will happen, or whether both the ERA and NIFA would move to the same place. The Federal Register notice asks “interested parties” to say so by Sept. 14.
The reorganization — which is one of several Perdue has undertaken since becoming secretary — was met by surprise from ERA and NIFA employees, Politico reported this week.
It also is being criticized by the Global Harvest Initiative, a lobbying firm that counts Smithfield, DuPont and Monsanto among its members. GHI said in a letter that moving the programs out of D.C. will have negative consequences when it comes to federal research and analysis.
Currently, the ERS and NIFA can work with many other government institutions, “reducing overlap and eliminating gaps in the important sector of food and agriculture research,” GHI Executive Director Margaret Ziegler wrote.
The government is looking for sizable real estate for the agencies. When asked whether there was a specific place Hartzler and her colleagues had in mind, she said that it’s something to be explored “down the road.”
“But we feel like there will be no doubt many locations in the Kansas City region that will qualify,” she said.
Yoder's letter touted Kansas City's "unique location" that gives the USDA both the workforce and "the opportunity to study the agricultural economy from a diverse group of farmers, ranchers and consumers."
Hartzler also said she delivered the letter in person to Undersecretary of Ag Bill Northey on Thursday at the Missouri State Fair.
All four of the representatives are up for re-election this year; the ones in Missouri aren’t expected to face a significant challenge, while Yoder is up against Democrat Sharice Davids.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media and an editor with KCUR. Follow her on Twitter: @ehunzinger.