The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture are considering Madison’s former Oscar Mayer plant as a location for those agencies’ new headquarters, according to a USDA statement last week.
The move will be an attempt to decentralize the USDA’s reach while extending it more directly to places impacted by its policies, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
“The interest across the country has been overwhelming as localities, universities, private entities and elected officials realize the potential for their communities to become the new home for these two agencies,” Perdue said. “It is an old saying that not all wisdom resides in Washington, D.C., but it is gratifying to see so many folks step forward wanting to prove that to be the case."
In a letter to Perdue, DATCP Secretary Sheila Harsdorf advocated for the why the former meat-packing plant would be an “ideal headquarters location for NIFA and ERS.”
“The space was established nearly a century ago as a small farmer’s co-op meat packing plant, and today stands ready to house offices that will benefit and bolster the nation’s agriculture industry for the next century and beyond,” Harsdorf said.
Additionally, the site’s close proximity to what Bill Barker, associate dean for research for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UW-Madison, called “one of the best land-grant universities in the world” may make it a competitive option.
“We take our role as an economic engine very seriously,” Barker said. “We also feel like Wisconsin has a dynamic and diverse agriculture economy, and we feel it would be an outstanding place for the USDA’s NIFA arm and ERS.”
The USDA — and the NIFA and ERS in particular — share a history with land grant universities and the extension model.
Madison is one of 35 cities nationwide that could be considered for these agencies’ new locations.
USDA intends to announce its selection of the new location or locations by January 2019 and will retain a consultant with expertise in relocation. Every employee who wants to continue working at ERS and NIFA will have the opportunity to relocate and will be offered relocation assistance and locality pay for the new location.