By Emma Morris
Agricultural Communication major
This summer, I have had the privilege of interning in our nation’s capital with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Specifically, I am interning with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in the Research and Promotion (R&P) division of the Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program (LPS). The Federal Government loves initialisms. Essentially, AMS administers programs encouraging marketing opportunities in the American agriculture industry. AMS staff oversee the National Organic Program, conduct Quality Grading and Standards inspections, and support commodity-specific efforts, including Dairy; Specialty Crops; Livestock, Poultry, & Seed; and Cotton & Tobacco programs. They also provide regulatory oversight for 22 research and promotion programs, which is the area I am working in.
These research and promotion programs, also known as Check-off programs, are industry funded and run by boards made up of industry members (with AMS oversight). The board members are nominated by their industry and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The size of the board is based on the size of the particular commodity. For example, there are 100 members on the Beef Board and six on the Popcorn Board. The boards are funded by the industry based on their particular Check-off program details. For instance, the Beef Board collects $1-per-head from producers on all cattle sold in the U.S. and the equivalent on imported cattle. Other commodities have other methods of collection, but the idea is the same; producers pay into these programs based on how much of their commodity they sell. This money is then used to fund research and promotion efforts within the industry. You may be familiar with some of these efforts:
Because the boards are appointed by the Secretary, they are considered quasi-government agencies and therefore must have government approval on everything they do. In the Livestock, Poultry, and Seed (LPS) program, marketing specialists oversee 6 of the 22 programs: beef, pork, poultry, lamb, soybeans, and sorghum. The specialists’ oversight includes reviewing and approving everything the boards do and say, from their annual budget to research papers to social media posts. Specialists also attend board meetings and communicate almost daily with the boards they oversee.
My duties this summer have been to help the LPS marketing specialists with their oversight roles and to learn the intricacies of the programs. My main goals this summer are to learn all I can about the USDA and its operation, improve my professional and workplace communication skills, and make connections in Washington, D.C. I got this internship in a spontaneous and serendipitous way, with very little time to prepare, but I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity. My learning curve has been vertical and I’m soaking up all the experiences and buzz around D.C. that I can. I look forward to completing the internship and coming back to California with a national perspective on agriculture.