Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08) and her Democratic colleagues on the House Agriculture Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee have sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing concern with recent reports about the USDA suppressing key agricultural research. The reporting was first done by Politico.
“Not talking about climate change doesn’t make it just go away,” said Rep. Schrier. “This hurts our farmers, who are having to contend with ‘100 year storms’ every few years, wildfires that are increasing in intensity, and higher average temperatures that are killing crops. Farmers need to have the crucial information on the future effects of climate change so they can plan for the worst. If the USDA has this information, even if it is dire, it must be shared.”
The letter reads as follows:
“Dear Secretary Perdue,
We write to express strong concern regarding recent reporting by Politico which outlines actions taken by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to suppress the dissemination of scientific information. Any effort by USDA to prevent the sharing of scientific information, particularly related to climate change, is an affront to the long-term success and economic viability of domestic farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. We hope this is not the case.
On June 12, 2019, the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing focused on the research and extension needs of producers in a time of greater climate variability. The message from our witnesses was resoundingly clear – farmers and ranchers need more resources and stronger extension services to better mitigate climate change and increase the resiliency of their operations. As underscored by their testimony, agricultural operators are already experiencing increasingly volatile weather patterns and shifts in pest pressures that can be contributed to a changing climate. Dr. David Wolfe, a professor at Cornell University, told the Subcommittee that when dealing with climate change, “farmers today are feeling the effects in real-time, and having to make difficult decisions to cope.” For example, only 85% of total soybean acreage has been planted compared to a historical average of 97% due to unprecedented flooding conditions across the Midwest.
This is the second time in recent months that scientific integrity at the Department has been questioned. Prior to a reversal on May 9, 2019, internal USDA guidance required researchers to identify their work as “preliminary” when presenting or seeking publication. Despite these researchers being leading professionals in their fields, this policy by USDA actively undermined their credibility and inhibited their ability to share their research findings within the broader agriculture community. While we appreciate your efforts to correct this unnecessary disclaimer, we are concerned about a potential pattern of behavior that appears to disadvantage career agricultural scientists within your Department and prevent the sharing of research findings.
We believe that proactive investments in research and extension efforts will allow farmers and ranchers to better mitigate risks and increase the resiliency of their operations in the face of a changing agriculture sector. To ensure that your Department continues a long tradition of promoting scientific advancements that benefit farmers and ranchers, we request that you outline what steps your Department intends to take to protect the open and transparent dissemination of scientific information. We also request an explanation as to how you plan to ensure political influence does not suppress current and future scientific research. Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.”