USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) was established in 1961, but its story goes back farther. The ERS predecessor agency, USDA's Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE), was set up in 1922, organizing the department's economic research into one agency and expanding the role of economics in understanding the U.S. food and agriculture system. The BAE addressed price and income issues faced by farmers, and in the 1930s the agency took on the responsibility for economic analysis of policy impacts, which is among the functions ERS performs today. Over the years, ERS has provided incisive, objective, and reliable research and analysis for both public and private decision makers, covering issues that have paralleled and complemented the mission of USDA.
Until around the time of ERS's founding, agricultural research focused on the farm and rural economy. Since then, the mission of ERS—and of USDA—has broadened to reflect the changed environment of our food and agriculture system, and it now includes research on such topics as food safety and nutrition, natural resources, trade and international agriculture, and the environment.
[ERS 50th Anniversary Video: Dr. Willard Cochrane and Dr. John Schnittker played key roles in establishing ERS, and in shepherding its early years. Here, they reminisce and envision the future. Transcript]
ERS has established a reputation for timeliness, high quality, depth, and objectivity in analyzing front-burner issues and enhancing the field of agricultural research. Recent work has informed debate on food deserts, biofuels, rural broadband investment, conservation programs and practices, the role of agricultural research, and the effect of regional trade agreements on U.S. agriculture.
ERS has consistently and effectively combined incisive analysis with cutting-edge technology. The agency pioneered the development of econometric models of national and international agricultural commodity markets in the 1970s, following this with other models that underpin much of ERS's analysis. Most recently, ERS has developed geospatial online mapping tools to integrate and display data and research results geographically—including data on the rural economy, farm program distribution, and indicators of access to affordable and nutritious food.