Among the possibilities is the relocation of some of the experiment stations' many branches—most of which are now located on rural sites and engaged in plant and animal research of direct interest to that location—to urban and suburban settings.

RECOMMENDATION 3. Federal programs and policies should enhance the LGCA system's efforts to realize organizational efficiencies and synergies that broaden and deepen the system's expertise and expand access and relevancy. Significant shares (25 percent or more) of total current USDA-administered extramural funds—including formula funds and competitive grants—for food and agricultural research, teaching, and extension should provide incentives for

  • regional centers, consortia, programs and projects that effectively integrate and mobilize multistate and multi-institutional (including 1862, 1890, and 1994 colleges') resources; and
  • distance learning and other technologies that expand access, broaden clientele, and enhance multi-institution collaboration in teaching, research, and extension.

Regional Research

Many important research problems are common to many of the experiment stations, for example, weed control in corn or mastitis in dairy cattle. To facilitate cooperative research, 25 percent of formula funds are now expended for regional research. This is accomplished via the funding of hundreds of USDA Regional Research Projects ranging from dairy cattle genetics to economic risk assessment. Each project requires a formal proposal that defines the work to be done, the participants, and the respective experiment station resources to be devoted to the project. Projects are reviewed by a committee of nine experiment station and home economics research directors, which recommends projects for approval by the administrator of USDA's CSREES (Lipman-Blumen, 1989). Each project is approved for a 5-year period, after which a formal revision is required that must be re-reviewed. This system has succeeded in the past by avoiding duplication, stimulating meaningful replication of experiments, and benefiting from the synergistic ideas of the typically 5 to 25 participating scientists.

This seemingly excellent mechanism of organizing agricultural research, however, has some major limitations. For example, it is inflexible with respect to which institutions receive the funding because funds are allocated by formula rather than by merit. Also, in nearly all cases, the participating scientists are all in the same field, for example, plant pathology. Furthermore, the process is too often ad hoc in that projects are initiated (or continued) by scientists without thoughtful direction or input from other stakeholders or priority setting by the system. In practice, annual regional meetings are primarily mechanisms for information exchange, a function that seems less necessary given modern means of electronic communication and networking. A recent review of the agricultural research system concluded that, "On the whole, it would seem that too little progress has been made in the direction of developing institutions that will deal efficiently with problems for which the jurisdiction is neither a state nor the nation as a whole" (Alston and Pardey, 1995).

An alternative approach to regional efforts is that used by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program, a small USDA-CSREES competitive grants program with regional orientation. Regional administrative councils manage the SARE programs, which are composed of farmers using sustainable agriculture systems and practices, agribusiness, nonprofit organizations with demonstrated expertise, state departments engaged in sustainable agriculture programs, as well as leaders from the federal and state agricultural research and extension systems. The regional councils are responsible for project review, selection, and recommendations for funding of grants to be awarded. A national advisory council is comparably composed and makes recommendations for project approval to the Secretary of Agriculture. Users of research are centrally involved in guiding the research program and full partners in it. This approach is worthy of examination as an appropriate alternative means of federal-state-industry pooling of resources for regional efforts in research, teaching, and extension.

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