Congressional Support for the Thomas Jefferson Initiative for Crop Diversification

The US Congress acknowledged the need for a coordinated approach to new crops development in 1998 when the Thomas Jefferson Initiative for Crop Diversification was authorized. The national initiative, named after Thomas Jefferson to honor his efforts to diversify and strengthen American agriculture is being developed at a particularly critical time for farmers producing commodity crops. 

With low prices for these crops, and declining farm payments under Freedom to Farm, many farmers are finding it difficult to stay in business. Among the things that can be done to help these farmers is developing profitable alternative crops, such as canola, sunflowers, millets, and kenaf, for farmers to grow in rotation with their traditional crops.

The need for a national initiative in crop diversification was identified by a panel convened by the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). The panel reported their recommendations, including plans for a national Jefferson Initiative, in February 1996.

Congressional language authorizing the Jefferson Initiative was included in action on the Agricultural Research and Extension Reauthorization Act in September 1997. Final passage of this bill, including the Jefferson Initiative provision, occurred in June 1998 (see Congressional authorizing language). The authorization now allows Congress to appropriate funds for the Jefferson Initiative.

The Jefferson Initiative, once funded, will take a comprehensive, coordinated approach to diversifying cropping systems. The Initiative is intended to involve a variety of public and private sector partners in overcoming the barriers that exist to new crop development and commercialization. The legislation authorizes USDA to provide funding for regional centers, a national coordinating center, and for competitive grants.

Other countries have already invested significant resources toward crop diversification. The European Community is reportedly investing $50 million per year in alternative oilseed development and Australia has developed a national new crops program to give wheat farmers crop rotation alternatives. More than two decades ago Canada invested heavily in canola development, and now exports canola to the U.S.

To date Congress has not appropriated funding for this initiative. For additional information about the National Jefferson Initiative and its potential impact on US agriculture, please e-mail Dr. Robert Myers.

To learn more, review these files (you'll need Acrobat Reader, which you can download here for free).
CAST issue paper #6: Diversifying US Cropping Systems (PDF)
Congressional authorizing language (PDF)
P.L. 105-185


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