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Testimony of Dr. Colien Hefferan, Administrator Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture

Research, Extension and Education Programs of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service

Before the Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research Subcommittee of The House Agriculture Committee
June 27, 2001

Mr. Chairman. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee. My name is Colien Hefferan, and I am the Administrator of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. CSREES is the agency of USDA which engages the national university-based agricultural knowledge system to develop science-based solutions and technologies to help farmers and rural communities remain productive and profitable in the face of considerable challenges. I am here today to report on the research, extension and education programs administered by the CSREES as guidance to the subcommittee's preparation for the next Farm Bill.

I am pleased to report to you today that in the three years since Congress passed the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 that CSREES has been successful in its mission to advance knowledge that has resulted in improvements in all aspects of agriculture. Agriculture is a knowledge-based, global enterprise sustained by the innovation of scientists and educators and the hard work of farmers and ranchers and publicly-supported research is a key component of that innovation. It is difficult to think of an element of the food and agriculture system that is not directly impacted by the research, education and extension system. When confronting issues as diverse as financial risk management, animal disease , nutrient management, climate change and economic development, producers, consumers and policy-makers require cutting edge scientific and educational techniques to develop appropriate and effective solutions. Effectively dealing with challenges such as Foot and Mouth Disease, food safety and agricultural resource conservation would be impossible without the nationwide network of experiment stations, extension services and universities dedicated to the advancement of agricultural sciences.

Likewise, the technological change sweeping across agriculture associated with information technology, precision farming, genomic sequencing and development of genetically engineered crops are all rooted in research, extension and education programs supported by Federal, state and local governments.

CURRENT STATUS OF PROGRAMS

The United States will need the most talented scientists and educators to work on current and future challenges in order to maintain its leadership position in global agriculture. CSREES accomplishes its mission by supporting research, education and extension activities through peer-reviewed competitive grant programs, formula fund support at the land-grant universities, and Congressionally determined priority projects. I would like to briefly describe how each of these components fits into the continuum of the agricultural knowledge system.

  • The research and extension formula fund programs provide critical support to the Agricultural Experiment Stations and the Cooperative Extension Systems nationwide at Land-Grant Universities, and substantially leverage additional resources from state and local governments.
  • The National Research Initiative (NRI) supports investigator-initiated basic and mission-focused research related to agricultural animal, plant, environmental and economic systems. The basic understanding of biological systems generated through the NRI underlies the development of future technological innovations.
  • The Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems and the Integrated Research, Education and Extension Program provide support for projects which combine the functions of research, education and extension activities to link research directly to on-the-ground solutions for American farmers and consumers. These programs address critical issues such as plant and animal genomics, food safety, biobased products and natural resource management.
  • The Higher Education Program portfolio builds educational capacity to train and educate future food and agricultural scientists. These programs contribute to innovations in curricula, recruiting, and internationalization of teaching programs and are especially important for improving the education and extension capabilities at the historically Black, tribal and Hispanic-serving institutions.
  • The Fund for Rural America provides key resources for the development of research, education and extension applications which address critical issues of rural economic development, human capacity building and market development.
  • Finally, the Small Business Innovation Research Grants Program supports the development of commercially viable agricultural technologies utilizing results of agricultural research.

These programs, together with targeted, national programs such as Integrated Pest Management and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and Congressional priority projects form a portfolio of work that translates research from the most basic of laboratory hypotheses all the way down to the dinner plate.

One example of how these programs all work together is food safety. In fiscal year 1999 the NRI funded research into the ways that E. coli 0157:H7 is distributed and transferred through the environment. This work stimulated integrated research and extension projects to reduce the risk of spreading the organism which were funded in fiscal year 2000. Taking the results of this knowledge even further, in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration, we are funding a $1.3 million national program through the Integrated Research, Education and Extension Grant Program to educate farm-workers and consumers about safe handling practices for fresh fruits and vegetables with the goal of further reducing the incidence of microbial-based illnesses.

The programs I just described form the framework under which CSREES has been operating since passage of the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (AREERA). This Act placed a higher emphasis on stakeholder input, and integration of research, extension and education functions, with a greater importance on competition in the delivery of CSREES programs. AREERA also authorized new programs and investments in agricultural research, including the Integrated Research, Extension and Education program and the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems.

The Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS) and the investment of $600 million in mandatory funding for integrated research, education and extension projects represents one of the most significant and far-sighted provisions of AREERA. With the support of many members of this committee, and following a 1-year delay in implementation mandated through appropriations action, CSREES first requested and awarded proposals under IFAFS during fiscal year 2000. The research, education and extension community responded by submitting nearly 1000 proposals requesting $1.5 billion in support. After reviewing the proposals we awarded 87 grants covering topics ranging from plant genomics and bioinformatics, the development of biobased oils and lubricants, management techniques for private forest owners and research related to diets and nutrition. The program focused on research that was cutting-edge, multi-institutional and directly linked to producer or consumer issues through extension or education programs. Included in the funded projects were the following:

  • Several projects to develop biobased products such as solvents, greases and latex substitutes and projects examining more efficient methods for converting biomass to fuels.
  • A consortium of Texas, Florida and California institutions to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables through a combination of basic research, extension and farm-worker education.
  • A consortium of the University of Tennessee and Purdue to develop natural resource management solutions for private forest owners.
  • Two consortia to develop education material for producers and consumers about the application of agricultural biotechnology. One of these was a consortium of 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and focused on delivering biotechnology applications to under-served farm communities.

CSREES is currently reviewing proposals for the FY 2001 IFAFS competition. This year, the IFAFS program received 770 proposals requesting nearly $1.25 billion in support. In the two years of its operation the IFAFS program has become an important feature of the agricultural research, extension and education community. When paired with the new Integrated Research, Education and Extension Program, IFAFS represents a fundamental shift in how CSREES manages its program portfolio and in how university scientists approach the development and dissemination of new research results.

One of the strengths of the agricultural knowledge system as it exists today is the way that different levels of government cooperate and leverage funds to the benefit of the overall system. A relatively small federal investment in research and extension formula funds leverages a tremendous amount of non-federal funds for these activities. Focused multi-state and regional research projects, supported by both formula funds and competitive grants, are being established to address complex problems. Funds provided to agricultural research, extension and education are used in a way that maximizes impact and minimizes duplication of effort.

Collaboration with other Federal science agencies is becoming a major mode of operating many CSREES competitive programs. We have strong collaborative efforts with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the area of genomics research. Our scientific staff meets regularly with NSF staff to set joint program goals and to ensure that our genomics programs are complimentary. Just last December the two agencies, along with the Department of Energy announced the completion of the jointly supported Arabadopsis Genome Sequencing Program and we are nearing completion of the joint rice sequencing project as well. CSREES and NSF are currently supporting a joint program to support the rapidly expanding field of microbial genomics. CSREES supports this joint program as one component of IFAFS.

In cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), IFAFS will fund projects to help producers adopt geospacial and precision technologies. We work jointly with USDA's Risk Management Agency to deliver risk management education to producers across the country. We work closely with the Food and Drug Administration and the Agricultural Research Service to set priorities for food safety research and to deliver public education. Finally we are working with National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop standards for assessing the environmental benefits of biobased products. These collaborations allow USDA to leverage the resources of other agencies to address issues of concern to agriculture through the multi-disciplinary capacity of America's universities and to prevent duplication of programs. The Congressional support of the NRI and IFAFS has been crucial to the development and the success of these collaborations.

These programs we are discussing today affect every other element of the farm bill, but they have their basis in the authorizations you will consider as part of the research title. CSREES and our university collaborators stand ready to assist the subcommittee as they craft the new research, extension and education title and the farm bill as a whole.