Medium Term Strategic Plan

1998 - 2002

State Agricultural Experiment Station System

Experiment Station Section

Board on Agriculture

National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges

November 1997

Table of Contents
Summary 2
Vision Statement  3
Mission Statement  4
Background 4
The Purposes of Agricultural Research  4
Strategic Issues  4
Assumptions  5
Guiding Principles  5
Environmental Assessments  6
External Assessment  7
Internal Assessment  8
Comparative Advantages  9
Strategies and Priorities  10
Management Strategies  11
Management Priorities  11
Research Strategies  12
National Research Programs 12
National Initiatives 13
Implementation 13
Communication 14
Time Table  14
Advantages of This Plan  15  
Measures of Success 15
Footnotes 15

A Medium Term (1998-2002) Strategic Plan for the
State Agricultural Experiment Station System1



This strategic plan2 represents a comprehensive roadmap of national strategies for the agricultural3 research activities conducted by the State Agricultural Experiment Station (SAES) System, and in partnership with others. This document also communicates critical milestones on the way towards intended accomplishments for the System's users (i.e., customers, consumers, stakeholders, agricultural leaders, and decision makers), as we look to new ways to enhance System performance and report on research impacts. Our plan is a dynamic, working document. Periodic up dates will be issued as needed.

Through this plan the SAES System renews its commitments to the Land-Grant University's fundamental paradigm that integrates teaching, research and extension for maximum public benefit. This renewal will allow the System to provide more concerted efforts when responding to publicly relevant issues, which have been voiced in successive citizen engagement sessions.

These citizen-identified issues have been transformed through a process of strategic planning into a set of national agricultural research programs and initiatives. Linking these Systemwide programs and initiatives to the extension System's base programs and initiatives, and to the national strategic plan for higher education, will better assure delivery of customer relevant research results for immediate and future public needs.

The SAES System has comparative advantages that allow it to provide public-relevant knowledge and information. Paramount among these is our long-term collaborations within and among Land-Grant institutions, and our partnership with the federal government through the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). This strategic plan builds on these relationships, and extends the partnership strategy in new ways, to serve the public better.

The System also plans to more broadly define its mission to address better publicly relevant issues, and to provide better research support for the extension and teaching missions of our paradigm partners. Additionally, the SAES System will use the five goals4 jointly derived with our federal partners as a framework for planning national research activities, and for reporting research results through mechanisms such as those required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.

The SAES System views itself as an entity greater than the sum of its parts, participating in coordinated project planning and research collaborations within the SAES network. The SAES System is seeking even greater enhanced performance as a "System." This outcome will be realized primarily as:

To assure the quality of the System's research, its responsiveness, and its relevance to stakeholders, several significant changes are being implemented. The SAES System is: This plan offers the opportunity to pass to future generations: At the same time: The SAES System recognizes that the future holds many unknowns, and significant resource constraints may limit our achievements. Given the public's expectations for solving the important agricultural, environmental and social issues identified through our listening sessions, the System's agenda is clear. And, given past high rates of return for agricultural research expenditures, these proposed research investments are well justified.

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DRAFT 11/1/97
A Medium Term (1998-2002) Strategic Plan for the
State Agricultural Experiment Station System


Vision Statement

The SAES System will be viewed by its primary stakeholders, and by the general public, as the premier providers of science-based agricultural research knowledge that is relevant, useful, and timely for addressing current and future problems, and for creating opportunities to further enhance public well being.


Mission Statement

The SAES System, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, usinga decentralized network of participants, provides the relevant and appropriate scientific knowledge and the research capacity needed for: an economically viable and environmentally sustainable food, forest, ornamental and fiber production system; a safe, dependable, nutritious, diverse, and affordable food supply; the preservation and protection of natural resources; all leading to a satisfactory quality of life for all citizens and their communities.  The SAES System will work cooperatively with academic programs, the extension system, federal and state agencies, and industry to meet the broader goals of its clientele.  We will do this through the development of new knowledge in the biological, physical and social sciences.



Strategic planning within the State Agricultural Experiment Station5 (SAES) System has, for nearly two decades, been primarily focused on describing a national "strategic agenda" of ranked agricultural research priorities. This process has recently given way to a more integrated approach that has brought together the Land-Grant University functions (i.e., teaching, extension and research) to identify common issues leading to action. This "Issues to Action"6 process involved a series of regional listening sessions followed by a synthesis of issues leading to a plan of action. The entire activity was premised on determined efforts to streamline collaborations among the Land-Grant Universities, and across functions. This most recent cross functional planning effort has set the stage for a new approach to strategic planning for the SAES System.

The SAES System is interested in receiving comments, endorsements, recommendations, criticisms, and points-of-concern in response to this plan as the SAES Directors organize the System's programs and allocate their resources for the next five years.

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The Purposes of Agricultural Research

The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (a.k.a. the Farm Bill) lists the following purposes for agricultural research.

"The purposes of federally supported agricultural research, extension and education are to-

"(1) enhance the competitiveness of the United States agriculture and food industry in an increasingly competitive world environment;

"(2) increase the long-term productivity of the United States agriculture and industry while maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base on which rural America and the United States agricultural economy depend;

"(3) develop new uses and new products for agricultural commodities, such as alternative fuels, and develop new crops;

"(4) support agricultural research and extension to promote economic opportunity in rural communities and to meet the increasing demand for information and technology transfer throughout the United States agriculture industry;

"(5) improve risk management in the United States agriculture industry;

"(6) improve the safe production and processing of, and adding value to, United States food and fiber resources using methods that maintain the balance between yield and environmental soundness;

"(7) support higher education in agriculture to give the next generation of Americans the knowledge, technology, and applications necessary to enhance the competitiveness of United States agriculture; and

"(8) maintain an adequate, nutritious, and safe supply of food to meet human nutritional needs and requirements."

The SAES System has adopted these purposes as a foundation for this strategic plan.

In addition, the SAES System, in partnership with the USDA's Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area and its Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), and with substantial customer input, have identified five strategic goals7. These five goals provide an accurate and well-defined framework for the SAES System's strategic planning efforts, and thus the five Federal-State Partnership's goals have been adopted for this planning process as well.

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Strategic Issues

In several recent national and regional listening sessions, and through continuing customer engagements, the SAES System has identified a number of customer-important needs and priorities. These have been assembled into a list of customer-identified issues, stated as the need to:

The SAES System accepts the challenge to address these customer-identified issues, and it redirects its resources to address these compelling issues.

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This strategic plan rests on a set of fundamental external and internal assumptions. The external assumptions are:

The internal assumptions are:  Table of Contents


Guiding Principles

The SAES System has a heritage of providing relevant agricultural research for meeting customer needs, and solving real world problems. It is also proud of its responsiveness to agricultural production crises and human emergencies. These characteristics are the hallmarks of the LGUs, and can be traced to their institutional paradigm that integrates teaching, research, and extension. And, it is their public service philosophy that provides the characteristic distinguishing LGUs from other types of research institutions.

Analyses of rates of return on agricultural research investments typically exceed 30% to 50 % annual returns on investments. Comparisons with other forms of scientific research are not available, as similar studies have apparently not been conducted. However, few, if any, areas of research pay dividends that approach those of agriculture. The unique coupling of basic and applied research activities at the SAESs accounts for these very high rates of return.

Considerable experience has been derived from developing the world-renowned Land-Grant Universities, including the SAES System. This experience has led to a number of guiding principles for developing a national agricultural research strategic plan for the SAES System. These principles are:

Systemwide strategic planning must consider these guiding principles when proposing new arrangements for organizing agricultural research. Decision-makers today expect more responses from public programs, and better measures of impacts and benefits from public research investments. This expectation requires more informed management decisions on future outlays by SAES Directors. Directors in turn, must give greater attention to planning and accountability, while preserving the characteristics of the System that have contributed to its success.

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Environmental Assessments

External Assessment - Significant external changes to science are affecting all sectors of research, including agricultural research. Some of the critically important external factors are:


Internal Assessment - Significant internal factors also affect agricultural research management decisions. Some of the more important factors are:

- New research opportunities may not be pursued;
- Necessary maintenance is deferred;
- Operating budgets are reduced; and
- Open positions are left vacant.
One consequence of financial constraints is the System has been reluctant to engage in new initiatives, or to begin significant investments in emerging technologies, because the necessary redirection of institutional resources would be painful.
  • Multiple claimants. A consequence of having multiple institutional claimants, each with an agenda, is the pressure to preserve past patterns of expenditures. Often, such groups have the political clout to enforce their demands. Redirection of programs into new initiatives or emerging technologies, in the face of ever constrained resources, has led to a state of semi-crisis in research management at some Stations.
  • Public and Private Sector Responsibilities. The traditional division of responsibilities between the public and private sectors is undergoing rapid change, much of which is driven by new technologies and markets for goods and services formerly provided by public institutions. There remains, however, a strong need for public institutions to provide public goods not otherwise provided by the private sector. Sorting these responsibilities is a major challenge for research planners.10
  • Multi-disciplinary research. Increased demand and expanded opportunity for multi-disciplinary research teams have caused a shift in the expectations for collaboration and research management support. This represents a major challenge to the SAES System.
  • Systems Science approach to research problems. There is an increasing expectation from research faculty for management's support of Systems Science research. Systems Science is a more holistic approach to the inter-relationships of component parts, and differs significantly from the more traditional reductionist approaches to research questions.
  • Emerging technologies. New technologies are emerging to offer exciting opportunities for agricultural research. Among these topics are: plant and animal genomic mapping; genetic engineering; precision agriculture; value-added technologies for harvested products; and applications of computing and electronic communications in agriculture. These topics reflect the high cost of many contemporary agricultural research activities. Currently, the SAES System is under invested in these and many other topic areas, vis-a-vis needed initiatives and emerging technologies.
  • Paradigm stress. The current funding stress faced by LGUs is threatening the fundamental paradigm of the institution, and its SAES component11. Institutional downsizing has created programmatic gaps on many campuses that cannot be easily filled by reassignments or reorganization. System capacity is threatened by these changes. Survival of many LGU Colleges of Agriculture and their SAES is a serious concern.
  • Intellectual property rights. The management of intellectual property rights and the associated earned royalties has, on many campuses, become a serious concern. How these resources can better contribute to the mission of the institution and the collective SAES System is in need of attention.
  • Institutional changes. The evolution of Land Grant Universities is bringing significant changes to the structure, organization and focus of research and education. This shifting pattern of institutional make-ups needs to be recognized in any national strategic planning effort.
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    Comparative Advantages

    The SAES System has important comparative advantages that contribute to its strength and uniqueness.

    The SAES System is:

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    Strategies and Priorities

    Management Strategies

    To address the Federal-State Partnership's five strategic goals a number of key management strategies will be pursued by the SAES System.

    The SAES System will:

  • Inventory the System's research capacity, as a defined by the National Agricultural Research Programs.
  • Integrate the System's activities with higher education's programs and the extension's Base Programs12, whenever feasible and beneficial.
  • Identify and implement a series of evolving National Agricultural Research Initiatives to complement better the National Agricultural Research Programs, and to strengthen our commitments to our customers. National Agricultural Research Initiatives may be linked to extension initiatives and/or to academic programs, when mutually beneficial13.
  • Build on the advantages of the Regional Research authority to create new collaborations in line with the Federal-State Partnership's goals.
  • Continue with our historical funding strategies that depend on multiple sources of funding to support a diverse portfolio of research activities through a recommitment to our traditional federal funding authorities (i.e., Hatch Act, competitive grants, special research grants), all of which are needed to support the rich and diverse portfolio of research activities that are represented in this strategic plan.
  • Seek new federal authorities to provide the System with a greater diversity of types of funding for more effectively accomplishing this research agenda. We are specifically seeking statutory authority for contract research, and several different types of targeted research grants.
  • Supplement federal and state resources with commodity, private, foundation, and international sponsors interested in aspects or components of this strategic plan.
  • Seek to expand our funding base beyond traditional sources by exploring new and novel mechanisms, such as: new national and international commodity check-offs; entitlement program set-asides; new partnerships and coalitions with the private sector; and strategic alliances with non-governmental agencies and non-Land-Grant institutions, when those linkages will help us achieve our objectives.
  • Recommit to using peer review for judging scientific merit, and committing to using customer reviews of research program relevance, for all investigations sponsored and conducted by the System. This includes both a priori and a posteriori evaluations.
  • More vigorously communicate the System's successes through an expanded regional and national effort in image enhancement.
  • Apply our global scientific leadership toward the creation of international partnerships to help us accomplish our research agenda and to maximize the efficiency of returns on investments in agricultural research.
  • Share successful research management approaches and programmatic successes through leadership development programs and nationally organized workshops for research managers.
  • Management Priorities

    In order to better assure successful research outcomes, we are committed to the following management priorities. We will give:

    To strengthen the System, and build on our past successes, there will be a need to: Research Strategies

    Strategies for organizing national agricultural research programs will give priority attention to:

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    National Research Programs


    The national SAES research portfolio will be organized into a limited number of program areas. This strategy was selected over other organizational schemes (e.g., issues, themes) as being most consistent with the natural order of research and most compatible with the current organization of our major research partner (ARS, with 25 research programs) and with extension (ECOP, with 7 base programs).


    There are currently 33,000 Current Research Information System (CRIS) projects. The intent of identifying a small set of national research programs is to:


    Several attempts to strategically define a set of National Research Programs (NRPs) has led to the identification of the following criteria:


    Two options for forming a set of NRPs are under consideration.

    Option 1. Use the Regional Research Fund's authority to create a strategically planned set of NRPs, using the Project Outline request and review process of the regional associations of SAES Directors. This could be done in partnership with extension and ARS, and possible with academic programs.

    Option 2. Create a set of strategically selected national programs under the auspices of ESCOP, formed as a set of subcommittees. An existing example would be the Pest Management Strategies Subcommittee.

    In either case, Terms of Reference (TOR) would be given to each NRP. The TOR would request an inventory of programmatic capacity, the development of a program plan based on clearly identified priorities that address one or more of the partnership's goals (with stated objectives), and the development of an accountability plan for annually reporting on the impacts and benefits derived from investments in the program. The conceptual model for this set of activities is the plant breeding capacity inventory and the strategic plans recently completed under the leadership of Ken Frey of Iowa State University.

    Support mechanisms will need to be crafted to facilitate each program's activities. Additionally, program evaluations will need to periodically assure program performance and direction.

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    National Initiatives

    In addition to forming a set of National Research Programs, the SAES System will coordinate a limited number of National Initiatives. Currently, ECOP's Strategic Planning Council supports a portfolio of national extension initiatives. Although some extension initiatives also receive budget development attention, this is not the primary purpose of creating an extension initiative, which is more to focus programmatic attention into areas of needed development.

    Borrowing on this idea, the SAES System will sponsor, either jointly with other partners or independently, a limited set of National Initiatives, each with a limited time horizon, and each with the specific purpose of developing an area through focussed attention.

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    The process that will be used for implementing the decisions represented in this Strategic Plan will be primarily through Subcommittees of ESCOP. This may require revision of some Subcommittee's charges, or the creation of some new Subcommittees. These decisions are not yet made, but they will occur through a consensus-building process moved by the leadership of ESCOP. Some anticipated future implementing activities are:

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    To communicate the decisions represented in this document a set of communication activities will be undertaken by the ESCOP Strategic Planning Subcommittee. The Subcommittee will, once the Strategic plan has been adopted by the ESS:

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    Time Table

    The identification of a small set of National Research Programs will occur in the six month interval following adoption of this strategic plan by ESS. Simultaneously, a set of proposed National Initiatives will be developed jointly with the SAES System's partners. All of these considerations will be reported to the leadership of ESCOP, for their consideration and sharing with the broad membership of the SAES System.

    Beginning in early 1998 the Subcommittee will initiate a joint futuring activity with a twenty year time horizon. This activity may need to continue for up to three years.

    A task force of the Strategic Planning Subcommittee will be asked to assume responsibility for developing a set of options for enhancing the quality of research through the expanded use of peer review. A second task force will be asked to provide a set of recommendations for measuring customer satisfaction through survey methods. Six months will be allocated for these activities, with their activities beginning soon after the Section's adoption of the ESS Strategic Plan.

    A marketing plan and an advocacy plan will be developed by the Subcommittee as a whole, once the final Strategic plan has been adopted, and agreement has been reached with our planning partners. These activities may take up to two years.

    A regional and national based image enhancement plan will evolve from current activities, and may take up to one year to complete. A task force of the Subcommittee will be asked to accept this assignment.

    An annual assessment of out-year resource needs will be done jointly with the ESCOP Subcommittee on Budget Development, if they accept the invitation to participate. This activity will be on-going.

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    Advantages of This Plan

    The SAES System's national approach to strategically organizing research activities by programs has several advantages, seen as:


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    Measures of Success

    Progress on the completion of the Federal-State Partnership's five strategic goals will be documented annually through the federal government's GPRA reporting process, once the process and procedures are decided.

    Another measure of the plan's success will be customer satisfaction surveys. Information from these surveys will help dynamically drive the SAES System's priority setting process that will, in turn, steer this national strategic plan.

    Finally, programmatic success will be indicated by monitoring increases in the resources made available to the SAES System, in response to delivering these anticipated accomplishments.

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    1. The membership of the SAES System includes the State Agricultural Experiment Stations affiliated with the 1862 Land-Grant Universities and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station at New Haven; and the agricultural research programs at the 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Tuskegee University.

    2. The process used for developing the consensus positions represented in this document started with a series of national and regional listening sessions supplemented by other information resources. From these sources the ESCOP Subcommittee on Strategic Planning, which has representation from SAESs, extension, teaching, and USDA/CSREES (i.e., the federal partner-agency), identified a set of issues which were coalesced into a draft strategic plan. Subsequent cycles of review and revision have contributed to a national consensus on these proposed research strategies.

    3. Agriculture, as used herein, is defined broadly to include all aspects of food, fiber and forest production, processing and consumption. The term agriculture is also used herein to relate to broad public responsibilities for preserving natural resources and protecting the environment, and serving the needs of all of the customers of agriculture; as individuals, families, and communities.

    4. The five goals are: An agricultural system that is highly competitive in the global economy; A safe and secure food and fiber system; A healthy, well nourished population; An agricultural system which enhances natural resources and the environment; and Enhanced economic opportunity and quality of life for Americans.

    5. The membership of the SAES System includes the State Agricultural Experiment Stations affiliated with the 1862 Land-grant Universities and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station at New Haven; and the agricultural research programs at the 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Tuskegee University.

    6. See Issues to Action: A Plan for Action on Agricultural and Natural Resources for the Land-Grant Universities. The Board on Agriculture, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1996.

    7. Actually, the REE plan calls for a sixth outcome that relates entirely to human capacity development within the REE mission area, and thus it is not directly relevant to this research planning exercise.

    8. Maintaining a diversified portfolio of agricultural research activities is essential for optimum scientific and public benefits. This is best done by blending science disciplines, institutional functions, and basic and applied investigations, as is commonly practiced at SAES.

    9. For an analysis of these relationships see W. E. Huffman and R.E. Just, "Funding, Structure, and Management of Public Agricultural Research in the United States," Journal of Agricultural Economics, November 1994.

    10. The SAES System, as a public institution, focuses on a type of research that is called public good. Public good research activities are conducted in the public interest, and for the most part, are not subject to appropriations by private interests. Private firms will not undertake research and development if they do not forsee a captured benefit. Thus, major public needs would go unattended if the private sector was expected to conduct all agricultural research activities. The SAES System and its federal partners have a comparative advantage in public goods research, and an established record of accomplishment in this area.

    11. Selling off a dairy research herd has far reaching consequences for teaching and extension. Likewise, closing a county extension office impacts on the delivery of research results. Canceling a college curriculum diminishes the future supply of "human capital" for both research and extension. None of these interrelationships are today well understood, or comprehensively managed from a systems perspective.

    12. The current extension base programs are: Agriculture; Community and Resource Development; Family Development and Resource Management; 4-H and Youth; Leadership and Volunteer Development; Natural Resources and Environmental Management; and Nutrition, Diet, and Health.

    13. The 1997-1998 extension national initiatives are: Managing Change in Agriculture; Children, Youth, and Families at Risk; Food Safety and Quality; Workforce Preparation; and Healthy Peolple ... Healthy Communities.

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