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Milestones in ERS History

In 2011, ERS celebrated its 50th Anniversary, but the Agency traces its history back to 1905. During most - but not all - of the intervening years, USDA's economic research functions enjoyed agency status and were housed in a single departmental agency.

1905-USDA establishes the Office of Farm Management, which is renamed the Office of Farm Management and Farm Economics in 1919. Research areas are established for farm organization, cost of production, farm labor, farm finance, land economics, agricultural history, and rural life studies. President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission recommended that USDA expand its agricultural economic research on the problems of farm families.

1922-Government leaders conclude that economic research and analysis could help farmers solve their price and income problems, and they establish the Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE) with Henry C. Taylor as chief.

1923-The BAE holds the first annual USDA Outlook Conference in an effort to make information on market conditions more accessible to farmers. The conference resulted in regular publication of market outlook reports that continue to be valued by users of ERS research products today.

1930s-Congress passes legislation for a variety of New Deal programs for agriculture. Acreage allotments and quotas, price-support loans, Federal crop insurance for farmers, and regional research laboratories were established. The first programs for soil conservation and food assistance were created, and programs to benefit rural communities were also implemented. USDA assigns BAE the role of central planning agency for department policy and the responsibility for analyzing policy impacts during this period.

1953-USDA centralizes agricultural policy planning in its administrative office and reassigns the economic research and service functions of BAE to two new agencies, the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Agricultural Research Service.

1961-USDA creates the Economic Research Service (ERS) to concentrate economic research within a single agency. The following year, ERS expands its research focus to include economic development, rural renewal, river basin and watershed programs, and resource policy.

1977-ERS merged briefly with USDA's statistical agency and was called the Economics, Statistics and Cooperatives Service (ESCS), but was later returned to agency status in 1981.

Present-For the last five decades, ERS has provided expert economic analysis and economic data to farmers, consumers and policymakers as new technology and changes in domestic policy and the rules for trade continue to alter the global marketplace.

Administrators of ERS, 1961 to the Present
1961-1965 Nathan M. Koffsky
1965-1972 Melvin L. Upchurch
1972-1977 Quentin M. West
1977-1981 Kenneth R. Farrell (ESCS Administrator)
1977-1981 J.B. Penn (Associate Administrator for Economics)
1982-1993 John E. Lee
1993-1996 Acting Administrators
1996-2006 Susan Offutt
2007-2011 Kitty Smith
2011- Mary Bohman

For More Information on ERS and Public service

  • Baker, G. L. and W.D. Rasmussen. 1975. "Economic Research in the Department of Agriculture: A Historical Perspective." Agricultural Economics Research, Vol. 27, No. 3-4, July-October.
  • Centennial Committee, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1963. Century of Service: the first 100 years of the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington D.C.
  • Economic Research Service. 1991. Economics and Public Service: Proceedings of the 30th Anniversary ERS Conference. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C.
  • National Research Council. 1999.Sowing Seeds of Change: Informing Public Policy in the Economic Research Service of USDA. J.F. Geweke, J.T. Bonnen, A.A. White and J. J. Koshel, Editors. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Last updated: Wednesday, August 13, 2014

For more information contact: Mary Reardon

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