United States Department of Agriculture

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United States Department of Agriculture
Logo of the USDA
Logo of the USDA
Seal of the Department of Agriculture
Seal of the Department of Agriculture
Agency overview
Formed February 15, 1889
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Employees 105,778 (June 2007)
Annual Budget $94 billion USD (2006)
Agency Executives Ed Schafer, Secretary of Agriculture
Charles F. Conner, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
Child Agency Click here

The United States Department of Agriculture (also called the Agriculture Department, or USDA) is a United States Federal Executive Department (or Cabinet Department). Its purpose is to develop and execute policy on farming, agriculture, and food. It aims to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, promote agricultural trade and production, work to assure food safety, protect natural resources, foster rural communities and end hunger, in America and abroad. Ed Schafer is the department's secretary, following his nomination by President Bush on October 31, 2007[1] and confirmation by the Senate on January 28, 2008[2].


The United States had a largely agrarian economy early in its history. Officials in the federal government had long sought new and improved varieties of seeds, plants, and animals for importation to the United States. In 1836 Henry L. Ellsworth, a man interested in improving agriculture, became Commissioner of Patents, a position within the Department of State. He soon began collecting and distributing new varieties of seeds and plants through members of the Congress and agricultural societies. In 1839 Congress established the Agricultural Division within the Patent Office and allotted $1,000 for "the collection of agricultural statistics and other agricultural purposes."

Ellsworth's interest in aiding agriculture was evident in his annual reports that called for a public depository to preserve and distribute the various new seeds and plants, a clerk to collect agricultural statistics, the preparation of statewide reports about crops in different regions, and the application of chemistry to agriculture. In 1849 the Patent Office was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior. In the ensuing years, agitation for a separate bureau of agriculture within the Department or a separate department devoted to agriculture kept recurring.

On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established the independent Department of Agriculture to be headed by a Commissioner without cabinet status.[3] Lincoln called it the "people's department". In the 1880s, varied special interest groups were lobbying for Cabinet representation. Business interests sought a Department of Commerce and Industry. Farmers tried to raise the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet rank. In 1887, the House and Senate passed bills giving cabinet status to the Department of Agriculture and Labor, but farm interests objected to the addition of labor, and the bill was killed in conference. Finally, on February 9, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law elevating the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet level.

In 1887, the Hatch Act provided for the Federal funding of agricultural experiment stations in each state. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 then funded cooperative extension services in each state to teach agriculture, home economics and related subjects to the public. With these and similar provisions, the USDA reached out to every county of every state.

During the Great Depression, farming remained a common way of life for millions of Americans. The Department of Agriculture was crucial to providing concerned persons with the assistance that they needed to make it through this difficult period, helping to ensure that food continued to be produced and distributed to those who needed it, assisting with loans for small landowners, and contributing to the education of the rural youth. In this way, the Department of Agriculture became a source of comfort as people struggled to survive in rural areas. Allegations have been made that throughout the agency's history it discriminated against African-American farmers, denying them loans and access to other programs well into the 1990s.[4] In 1999, the USDA settled a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination against African-American farmers.

Today, many of the programs concerned with the distribution of food and nutrition to people of America and providing nourishment as well as nutrition education to those in need are run and operated under the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

USDA also concerns itself with assisting farmers and food procucers with the sale of crops and food on both a domestic and on the world market.

USDA also plays an important role in overseas aid programs, by providing surplus foods to developing countries to support development programs, sometimes via USAID or directly to foreign governments, international bodies such as WFP or approved non profit organizations. The Agriculture Act of 1949, section 416 (b) and Agricultural Development and Trade Act of 1954 (also known as Public Law 480 or just PL 480) provides the legal basis of such actions.

The United States Secretary of Agriculture administers the USDA.

The USDA's National Animal Identification System assists large agri-business and factory farms track disease in herds, a necessary regulation for sale of meat overseas.

Organic program

File:USDA organic seal.svg
USDA National Organic Program official seal

The USDA has maintained the United States's National Organic Program, which governs organic certification for the United States, since 2002.[1]

Operating units

File:Dept of Agriculture.jpg
The headquarters of the USDA are on the National Mall at Washington, D.C.
USDA building (photo taken in 1934)

Defunct units

Related legislation

The Secretary of Agriculture's office is located in the Jamie L. Whitten Building.

Important legislation setting policy of the USDA includes the:

See also

External links


  1. "President Bush Nominates Ed Schafer for Secretary of Agriculture" (Press release). White House. 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  2. Jalonick, Mary Clare (2008-01-28). "Senate Confirms Secretary of Agriculture". AP. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  3. 12 Stat. 387, now codified at 7 U.S.C. § 2201.
  4. General Accounting Office,USDA - Problems Continue to Hinider the Timely Processing of Discriminatinon Complaints, January 1999

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