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1 - Agricultural Research Service Strategic Plan: 2003-2007
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The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the principal in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is one of the four component agencies of the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area. Congress first authorized federally supported agricultural research in the Organic Act of 1862, which established what is now USDA. That statute directed the Commissioner of Agriculture "... To acquire and preserve in his Department all information he can obtain by means of books and correspondence, and by practical and scientific experiments,..." The scope of USDA's agricultural research programs has been expanded and extended more than 60 times since the Department was created. Before the enactment of large-scale crop support and nutrition programs, agricultural research was a substantial part of the Department's budget. Shortly before World War II, USDA received about 40 percent of all Federal funds appropriated for research. To better support the war effort, the Department's various research components were brought together into the Agricultural Research Administration (ARA). In 1953, the ARA was reorganized into ARS. In 1995, the National Agricultural Library (NAL) was integrated into ARS.

ARS Approach to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)

Since 1983, ARS has developed a series of multiyear strategic plans to help guide development and management of the agency's work. In 1993, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), Public Law 103-62, was enacted. It seeks to make all Federal departments and agencies more programmatically accountable to Congress and U.S. taxpayers. GPRA requires all Federal agencies to integrate strategic planning, budgeting, and performance measurement in order to better account for program results. GPRA compliance is governed by OMB Circular A-11, which states that "the Strategic Plan is a tool to be used in setting priorities and allocating resources consistent with those priorities."  GPRA also requires agencies to prepare Annual Performance Plans and Annual Performance Reports. The ARS Strategic Plan, covering fiscal years 2003-2007, was developed in accordance with the GPRA requirements.


Leading America towards a better future through agricultural research and information.


ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to:

••         ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products

••         assess the nutritional needs of Americans

••         sustain a competitive agricultural economy

••         enhance the natural resource base and the environment, and

••         provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.


ARS research is authorized by the Department of Agriculture Organic Act of 1862 (7 U.S.C. 2201 note), Agricultural Research Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 427), Research and Marketing Act of 1946 (Pub. L. 79-733), as amended (7 U.S.C. 427, 1621 note), Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 (Pub. L. 95-113), as amended (7 U.S.C. 1281 note), Food Security Act of 1985 (Pub. L. 99-198) (7 U.S.C. 3101 note), Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-624) (7 U.S.C. 1421 note), Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-127), Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-185), and Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Pub. L. 107-171).

Statutorily Defined Purposes of Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education

In structuring this Strategic Plan, ARS has carefully crafted its Objectives, Performance Measures, and Actionable Strategies to address all of the applicable statutory provisions in the "Purposes of Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education" as amended by Pub. L. 104-127, Title VIII, Sec. 801, Apr. 4, 1996, 110 Stat. 1156. The "Purposes" are as follows:

The purposes of Federally supported agricultural research, extension, and education are to:

(1) enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. agriculture and food industry in an increasingly competitive world environment;

(2) increase the long-term productivity of the U.S. agriculture and food industry while maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base on which rural America and the U.S. agricultural economy depend;

(3) develop new uses and new products for agricultural commodities, such as alternative fuels, and develop new crops;

(4) support agricultural research and extension to promote economic opportunity in rural communities and to meet the increasing demand for information and technology transfer throughout the U.S. agriculture industry;

(5) improve risk management in the U.S. agriculture industry;

(6) improve the safe production and processing of, and adding of value to, U.S. food and fiber resources using methods that maintain the balance between yield and environmental soundness;

(7) support higher education in agriculture to give the next generation of Americans the knowledge, technology, and applications necessary to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture; and

(8) maintain an adequate, nutritious, and safe supply of food to meet human nutritional needs and requirements.


ARS provides the scientific expertise and library and information services needed to support the work of most of the Department's action and regulatory agencies and other Federal agencies such as the Departments of State and Energy, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (NIH, FDA, and the CDC), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and some components within the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of the Interior (DOI). The USDA action and regulatory agencies served by ARS include:  Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS); Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); Farm Service Agency (FSA); Food and Consumer Service (FCS); Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS); Forest Service (FS); Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA); and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The National Agricultural Library, which is part of ARS, supports all USDA agencies.


The future of American agriculture depends on its ability to respond to critical external factors.

ARS will take these factors into consideration in establishing and executing its research mission.


The globalization of all aspects of the food and fiber system is having a major impact on American agriculture. From competitive markets around the world to diseases that know no national boundaries to population growth and evolving diets, we are seeing profound changes worldwide. These changes have led to a dramatically new trade environment, threats of exotic diseases and pests to domestic production, and international controversies over the use of biotechnology. To remain competitive, the food and agriculture sector needs to take these developments into consideration.


The explosion of information technology, the worldwide use of the Internet, and the major advancements of cyberspace communications are changing the way private industry, government, and individuals conduct daily business. Vast amounts of information are available in real time, more people from around the world will be able to retrieve this information, and advanced computer software and the application of the principles of information organization and management will increasingly make this information more useful and meaningful. This includes making information available in languages other than English and targeting specific audiences in order to maximize the effective use of the products of agricultural research. These advancements in communications technology offer opportunities for everyone involved in the U.S. food and agriculture enterprise.


It is important to hire and retain a highly skilled and technically adept Federal workforce. The relatively low U.S. unemployment rate makes recruitment highly competitive. This competitive environment is expected to require more employer emphasis on recruitment, retention, student employment, upward mobility, and training/retraining programs. ARS will need to enlist a diversity of people to maintain a highly qualified and technically competent workforce. Expanding job opportunities for women and minorities in science and engineering will help tap the Nation's human potential.


Advances in technology-such as genomics and proteomics, bioengineering, precision agriculture, remote sensing, information technology, and decision modeling-can transform agricultural production, nutrition, environmental protection, and food safety. Biotechnology offers great promise for increasing production efficiency, improving food quality, and enhancing nutritional value. Despite high rates of acceptance in the United States, concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) abroad have had a marked impact on international exports of commodities and continue to prompt questions about the potential benefits and risks. Research on precision agriculture, remote sensing, and decision modeling will increase production efficiency and mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of agriculture. To ensure food safety, research is necessary to develop new rapid detection technologies that will make our safe food supply even safer.


Growing global populations, demographic changes, and economic growth will substantially increase the demand for agricultural products and create new markets for American products. At the same time increased agricultural efficiency in other countries will force U.S. agriculture to be more competitive. Because arable agricultural land is limited, these growing demands will increase the need for research to maximize yields, protect marginal areas from unsustainable development, and minimize the harmful effects of agriculture on the environment and the natural resource base.


Growing concern about the impact of emissions of greenhouse gases on the Earth's surface and atmosphere has prompted policy discussions and international negotiations. Specific concerns have been raised about the effects of global climate change on agriculture and the effects of agriculture on global climate change. In response, ARS will conduct research on the potential for reducing emissions from agricultural production, increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, and adapting current agricultural practices to a changing environment.


The structure of the food and fiber system-from farm to market-changed dramatically in the last decades of the 20th century. Continued change is likely. An increasing share of U.S. food and fiber is being produced on fewer, larger, and more specialized farms. Similar change can be seen across the food and agriculture sector. Firms are larger, and production methods are more specialized. Production and marketing are more vertically and horizontally integrated. Concentration-characterized by sharp declines in the number of buyers or sellers of a product-is greater. Consumer preferences, new technology, and global markets drive continuing change, affecting farmers, processors, marketers, and consumers.


Concern about the growing threat of biological terrorism has given rise to Government-wide efforts to prevent such an activity before it occurs and plan appropriate responses should it occur. ARS seeks to better understand and characterize selected pathogens that could be used as a threat to the Nation's food supply. This research will be used to protect the U.S. agricultural production system from an act of biological terrorism.


The ability of ARS to respond to the many and diverse needs of producers and consumers is determined largely by the level of funding provided by Congress. As a consequence of inflation and the higher operating costs associated with advances in research equipment and techniques, the ARS scientific workforce, which reached a maximum of about 3,400 scientists in 1970, declined to about 1,700 scientists in the mid-1990s. Recently that trend has been reversed, and ARS has about 2,100 scientists today. Because of widespread concern about managing the Federal deficit, maintaining the long-term viability of the Social Security Trust Funds, and other mandatory programs, future discretionary budgets, including ARS', are expected to remain relatively tight.


A listing of ARS' customers, beneficiaries, stakeholders, and partners is shown below. Although composition of the list changes, it gives an indication of the breadth of ARS' customer base. Sometimes an organization can be, at the same time a customer, beneficiary, stakeholder, and partner in any combination.

Beneficiaries-Individuals whose well-being is enhanced by the agency's activities.

Domestic consumers/general public
Foreign consumers of U.S. agricultural exports and technologies

Customers-Individuals or organizations that directly use ARS products or services.

Producers (farmers, growers, and ranchers) and processors

National and international organizations
Advocacy groups
Commodity and futures markets
International trade organizations
International science and research organizations

Legislative Branch

Executive Branch

U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Secretary of Agriculture
  • Other mission areas
  • Action and regulatory agencies
  • Office of Budget and Program Analysis
  • Inspector General
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Information Officer

Other Federal agencies
Scientific community
Academic and educational community
Medical community
Health and dietary community
Environmental community
State and local governments
News media
Information professionals and library communities  

Stakeholders-Organizations or individuals that have an interest in the work of ARS but do not directly use the agency's products.

Legislative branch
Executive branch
ARS employees

National and international organizations
Producer and processor organizations
Food and commodity organizations
Foreign countries/governments
Trade organizations
Environmental organizations
Retail organizations
Consumer organizations

Partners-Organizations that ARS works with collaboratively.

Institutions of higher education
Federal research agencies
State research agencies
Private industry
Library communities
International organizations

Measuring Research

In developing the ARS strategic plan, the agency identified several reasons why it is extremely difficult if not impossible to apply numerical measures to research, especially basic research. For example

••         the outcomes/impacts of research are difficult to identify and measure in advance
••         the value of knowledge gained is not always immediately recognized
••         results are not always predictable
••         there is a high percentage of negative determinations or findings
••         the unknown cannot be measured

For these reasons and after earlier efforts to use numerical metrics proved unsatisfactory, ARS decided to use a narrative approach to describing its accomplishments.


The ARS plan was developed, revised, and finalized exclusively by Federal employees after extensive consultation with ARS customers, stakeholders, and partners.

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