This year, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) celebrates its 50th anniversary. ERS was established on April 3, 1961 during the Kennedy Administration, when USDA combined the Department’s economic research functions into one agency. The functions of our predecessor agency, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE, dating from 1922), had been dispersed in 1953 to other USDA offices, and many former BAE economists found a home in the new ERS.
This week, ERS is marking the occasion with a day-long symposium in USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium, featuring speakers from government and the research community who will focus on the agency’s contributions to public policy and the social sciences. USDA employees and the public are invited to the symposium.
ERS’s current status as a primary source of economic research and information in USDA, has been earned over years of sound, objective analysis that has enhanced food and agricultural policy as well as the field of agricultural research. The data and analysis on our website cover the range of topics paralleling USDA’s mission: the food system, diet and nutrition, the farm economy, commodity production and trade, domestic and global food security, rural development and demographics, and agriculture-related environmental issues.
In the 1970s, the young ERS pioneered the development of econometric models of national and international commodity markets, enabling projections used in USDA’s annual baseline. The models we develop are the gears that help drive the machinery of much of our analysis.
Policymakers, advocacy organizations, other decisionmakers, researchers and the media are among those who rely on ERS information. Examples of highly anticipated ERS work are the farm income forecasts and food CPI forecasts regularly posted on our website. Our annual report on household food security is another. The agency also publishes an annual report on the level of food insecurity of developing countries and regions. Reports on current policy topics have a long history of meeting the need for analysis. Recent reports have informed debates on food deserts, the future of the Conservation Reserve Program, federal investments in rural broadband, and the effect of regional trade agreements on U.S. agriculture.
Among the most popular items on our website is the interactive data series on per capita food consumption which we redesigned last year to make it more user-friendly. In recent years ERS has developed geospatial mapping tools to integrate and map research results online. Last year, the agency unveiled its Food Environment Atlas – a broad set of statistics on communities’ food options and health outcomes. In January this year, we produced an online atlas of socioeconomic data on rural and small-town America.
And just this week, we introduced the Food Desert Locator, an online mapping tool for pinpointing and accessing data on communities where people lack easy access to large grocery outlets.