and Policy (ECOP). ESCOP's priorities are, however, broad and sufficiently all-encompassing that it is easy to include any research project within one of its priority designations (see Table 2-1 and the Profile report, p. 63). Its recommendations apply to the entire experiment station research portfolio and thus are not useful for differentiating priorities for research conducted with federal, state, or private resources. At the state level, a variety of methods to influence the direction of research conducted with state or federal formula funds are used. Methods range from close control by the experiment station director to virtual freedom for college departments or individual researchers to use internally allocated funds to pursue the research issues they deem most important. The degree to which users and stakeholder customers of the experiment station research program are involved in priority setting also varies widely among states, despite the efforts mentioned above.

The focus of experiment station research supported by federal competitive grants is determined by the nature of the research solicited by the grant programs' Requests for Proposals (RFPs). The RFPs for the USDA's National Initiative for Research on Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (NRI), at present the largest source of competitive grants for agricultural research, are written by NRI program directors.1 The program directors have operated without a strategic departmental policy for research agenda setting and prioritization (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). Although these program directors solicit the opinions of representatives of various research user groups, nonscientist stakeholders are not directly involved in decision making, and there is no way to gauge the extent to which informal advice from stakeholders affects program directors' decisions. There is a need to go further in narrowing the gap between stakeholder input and the outcomes of resource allocation decisions.

RECOMMENDATION 1. Receipt by LGCAs of USDA-administered research and extension funds—including formula funds and competitive grants—should be contingent on their ability to demonstrate that a wide variety of stakeholders have effective input into a systematic prioritization (no less often than biennially) of research, extension, and joint research-extension issues, that specifies areas of increased and decreased emphasis. Further, LGCAs must demonstrate that a wide variety of stakeholders are consulted in resource allocation decision making processes. (Also see Recommendation 9.)

Working with Producers

The second implication of an expanded perspective on the food and agricultural system is the challenge and complexity of serving and meeting the needs of today's and tomorrow's agricultural producers. As indicated, producers are an exceedingly diverse group, spanning vertically integrated firms and their contractors, large corporate farms

1  

Two reports from the National Research Council's Board on Agriculture focused on USDA's National Initiative for Research on Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (NRI). The first, Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food, and Environmental System (National Research Council, 1989b), proposed a substantial expansion of the use of competitive research grants in agriculture and resulted in the creation of the NRI by the 1990 farm bill. The board's proposal suggested the six program areas that still form the core of the NRI program. The original proposal also supported four types of competitive grants: (1) principal investigator, (2) fundamental multidisciplinary team, (3) mission-linked multidisciplinary team, and (4) research strengthening. Major emphasis was to be given to multidisciplinary teams. The second Board on Agriculture report, Investing in the National Research Initiative: An Update of the Competitive Grants Program in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (National Research Council, 1994a), evaluated the status of the NRI. The second report did not identify any significant drift from the program's (and the board's) original objectives, although some original objectives—such as 50 percent multidisciplinary research—have not been fully realized. (See committee's discussion of its support for multidisciplinary research in Chapter 4.)



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