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Budget cuts would close centers fighting agri pests

5:32 PM, Jun 30, 2011   |    comments
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Associated Press photo.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Gannett News Service) -- Agriculture research at Michigan State University may be sacrificed in the congressional frenzy to cut spending.

House lawmakers passed a Department of Agriculture spending bill on June 16 that would chop $354 million from the fiscal 2012 budget for the Agricultural Research Service, possibly closing 10 research centers across the country that work on improving food productivity and safety.

Steve Pueppke, director of AgBioResearch at Michigan State, said the partnership between MSU and the Agriculture Research Service is key to the university's research efforts, which focus on apples, sugar beets and other crops.

"If you come to the MSU campus, the federal employees are very well integrated with the state employees," he said. "Scientifically, they are colleagues."

Pueppke said the federal grant money for research allows U.S. farmers to stay competitive globally. Without such research, he said, they "have a very significant chance to fall behind."

"It requires consistent attention," he said. "Conditions are changing, pathogen threats are changing. We have to stay competitive."

Pueppke said the proposed budget cut would force the university to lay off employees and possibly close programs.
The proposed cut represents 14 percent of the Agricultural Research Service's current budget. After passing the House 217-203, the overall spending bill now moves to the Senate.

Agricultural research centers, many located at universities such as Michigan State, study farmer's behavior in cattle, diseases that affect cotton crops and nutrient distribution in soil. They help develop new pesticides and fertilizers that farmers use to meet the demands of a growing global food market.

The effects would be felt in key farming centers such as California's Salinas Valley, home to a $4-billion-a-year agricultural industry that produces 90 percent of the nation's leafy greens.

Disease and pests spread quickly in the valley. Local farmers say they rely on the federal agriculture research center in Salinas to stay ahead of the infestation curve.

"It's extremely important that the farmers can have a research group that they can go to for help with these concerns," said Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterrey County Farm Bureau in California. "If we lose our research facility here, then it becomes an issue of competing with other centers elsewhere for research dollars."

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., voted for the spending bill. He described the proposed cut in Agriculture Research Service grant money as "a modest reduction."

"Fortunately, because of Michigan State University's expertise and work in this area, much of the research will happen right here in mid-Michigan," he said in an email.

By Charles Scudder, Gannett Washington Bureau

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