Moving agencies to Kansas City helps Missourians contact USDA

By: 
Duane Dailey

In a surprise story this week we learn that the government can move. Two large USDA agencies were told to move from Washington to Kansas City.

Both connect to University of Missouri in many ways. This can be important to folks across the state, especially those with most contacts to MU Extension.

This is a big deal. Two agencies total some 600 jobs to move. They work in Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA.)

NIFA was relabeled taking Extension from the name. But, that’s our connection. NIFA sends federal tax dollars back to Missouri. That’s important for outreach and research.

MU has a strong connection to ERS through our FAPRI. I’d written about MU Food and Agriculture Research Institute for years. Farmers using outlooks in marketing benefit from state and federal help.

But all Missourians who works in food or agriculture have interest in these two agencies. That’s even if they’ve never heard of them.

I’d heard about a possible move long ago, but dismissed that as a crazy idea. I’ve changed my mind.

Of course, federal workers don’t like moving at all. It disrupts lives, families and careers. Many won’t move. That opens jobs nearby for our college grads. Good people who wouldn’t move to Washington might work locally.

Back channel talks tell of some MU professors who’ll be downsized connecting with the Feds.

Closeness strengthens ties of ERS and NIFA with FAPRI and MU.

Federal News Service, a source for many of my insights, says there will be a $300 million savings. Rent and living costs are less here than in D.C.

I did not know of the intense campaign by Missourians and Kansans in seeking this move. Washington stories cite Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas helping the decision.

I learned Sen. Roberts’ interest in FAPRI policy analysis in an odd way. One morning, arriving at work on a federal holiday the senator called me. He commented on my plain-talk news release on a FAPRI outlook we’d just taken to Washington.

It turns out that more than MU campaigned for the KC move. Missouri Farm Bureau lobbied hard along with commodity groups. Good for them.

There’s a dark side to the story. A photo with the front-page story in the Kansas City Star showed federal workers standing with their backs to the Secretary of Agriculture when he announced the move.

Later I learned the workers had just voted to unionize, seeking higher wages. Could the move be retribution?

Also some small farm groups protest the move as well.

Maybe they recall the president’s early talk of cutting agricultural costs. Our leader has said many times he doesn’t believe in science or analysis. He uses his own senses, he says. He sees no need for agency help.

I hope Missouri farmers learn the value of federal funds in farm research. Research and extension help cow owners make hundreds of dollars more per heifer. They enroll in Show-Me-Select. There’s premium value in applied AI breeding research.

I no longer keep close contacts with federal information workers that I used early in my career. From them, I learned some of what I know of plain language. Maybe those people were downsized earlier.

I believe having USDA workers close will improve our communications.

One story indicated that the new location will be just a few hundred miles from a dozen Land-Grant Universities. That makes sense, bring government to the people.

Some 135 places sought the agencies. One story said Kansas City had put up a $25 million incentive to sweeten their deal. No word yet on where the agencies will land on the Missouri or Kansas sides of the state line.

Knowing how political deadlocks grip Washington, we may not have heard the end of this story.

This isn’t a done deal, yet. Congress hasn’t approved the move nor appropriated money.

Send your thoughts to duanedailey7@gmail.com.

(Duane Dailey has been translating science-speak into “farmer talk” for Missouri’s farmers for more than 50 years as a reporter for University Extension. Raised on a farm near Mercer, Mo., Dailey lives in Columbia. He is a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame).

Category: