Ag Secretary vows to help ‘right-size’ agricultural research budget

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sees nothing but good in collaboration between federal and state agencies at Stoneville, Miss.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the administration’s budget “may have missed the mark” when it comes to agricultural research funding, and he pledged to work to “right-size” that part of the budget for agriculture.

Secretary Perdue’s comments came during a hearing held by the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran.

Perdue and Cochran sat next to each other on the stage at the Delta Council’s annual meeting where the secretary gave the keynote address a few days before on Friday, June 9. One of Perdue’s themes was rebuilding the rural economy, including helping state and federal research agencies improve their collaboration.

“Many people are looking at this year’s budget with hope and despair,” said Cochran, speaking at the Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “We’re going to go through a thoughtful process to determine appropriate funding levels for agriculture research and programs that support American producers.

“Secretary Perdue has indicated his readiness to work with us through this important process. I look forward to working with him to make appropriations available in a responsible way.”

Cochran singled out the proposed funding levels for the Agriculture Research Service, which has a regional office headquartered in Stoneville. The administration’s budget request would reduce funding for ARS as a part of a 21 percent funding reduction for the USDA overall.

Responding to Cochran, Perdue praised agriculture research conducted in Mississippi and pledged to “work to right-size the budget.

“You and I were just at the Delta Council at the Stoneville research facility, which in my opinion is one of the best examples of the collaboration between our land grant universities in this case Mississippi State University, and our ARS of the USDA,” Perdue said. “It was a seamless operation, and I don’t think those people even knew whether they had a Mississippi State shirt on, extension agent or ARS, the way they were working together collaboratively.

“I think research is one of those areas where we may have missed the mark,” the Secretary noted. “I believe we can work to right-size the budget because research is really the basis for our agricultural productivity today.”

Cochran also submitted questions to Perdue regarding the budget request to eliminate several programs, including: the Water and Wastewater Grant program, which supports rural community water systems; and the Rural Business Cooperative Service, a loan and grant program to promote business and employment in rural areas.

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