What Exactly Does the USDA do?
USDA Roles and Responsibilities
When you hear “USDA,” many people think of bureaucracy, big government and lots of regulations, and yes indeed many of that is true. The United Stated Department of Agriculture is the 6th largest governmental agency with nearly 100,000 employees! In 2017 its annual budget was $115 BILLION DOLLARS. It also has 29 internal agencies that have over 4,500 offices across the United States. Clearly the USDA has some heavy hitting power, but what is its role in American society?
The overarching role of the United Stated Department of Agriculture is to lead in the following areas:
- Farm production and conservation
- Food, nutrition and consumer service
- Food safety
- Marketing and regulatory programs
- Natural resources and environment
- Research, education and economics
- Rural development
- Trade and foreign agricultural affairs
Basically, anything and everything related to food can probably be traced back to the USDA in some capacity. Even things down to the soil, forestation, preserving natural resources and research and development to advance the United States agricultural interests domestically and abroad.
The USDA, like all other governmental agencies has a core responsibility to protect the public and its specific capacity is oversight with all areas surrounding food production and safety. As you can imagine, with nearly 100,000 people that’s a lot of personalities and inevitably will result with clashes somewhere with USDA employees and the folks they serve.
Many tend to describe the USDA as a blessing and a curse. Clearly there needs to be oversight and regulation, however, the extent to that depends upon whom you ask. Small local farms have a reputation for getting the short end of the stick when it comes to the USDA and its monumental regulations, as many simply do not have the manpower to navigate the intricacies of the bureaucracy. Conventional farms have more money, more leverage and greater lobbying power to sway legislation and regulations in their favor, the little guys unfortunately don’t.
A prime example of this is becoming a certified organic farm. Regardless if it’s for livestock, produce or poultry, the process is excruciatingly long and tedious. Therefore, many small local farms elect not to pursue the certified organic process and simply let their customers know how they farm because they don’t have the resources to allocate to that on top of the myriad other farm responsibilities.