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Closing gin lab makes no economic sense



That’s all the U.S. Department of Agriculture will save annually by closing the USDA-ARS gin lab in Lubbock, Texas.

One point two million dollars sounds like a lot of money to folks like me who recall digging ditches in the heat of a South Carolina summer for $1.35 an hour. But in the grand scheme of things, and as part of the USDA farm bill budget of billions of dollars, 1.2 million is chicken feed, chump change. The USDA probably wastes more than that on lost paper clips each year.

But the Bush Administration, in its latest budget proposal, has recommended eliminating funding for the Lubbock Gin Lab to save one point two million dollars a year. It makes no economic sense. Just consider:

The Lubbock gin lab sits in the middle of what is known as the world’s largest cotton patch, an area that plants and harvests from 4 million to 5 million acres of cotton annually. This year, the area served by the Lubbock lab, including parts of Texas further south, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas, will produce more than half the country’s cotton.

The gin lab is the only gin research facility in the world that works on the unique challenges of maintaining quality of stripper-harvested cotton. The ability to use stripper harvesters instead of more expensive pickers makes a huge difference in profit potential for High Plains cotton farmers.

Consider, too, the increase in quality that now makes Texas cotton competitive with most any fiber grown in the United States. Much of that improvement comes from innovations researched and refined at the Lubbock Gin Lab. And quality is what sells cotton in the global economy where most of the U.S. cotton crop finds markets.

And think about environmental concerns, a serious factor in any manufacturing operation these days. Current proposals by the cotton industry would evaluate particulate emissions currently evident in U.S. cotton gins. The best place to get that done? The Lubbock Gin Lab.

Module builders, bur extractors, methods to turn gin waste into mulch, and potential to develop building material from that same gin waste are all either past successes, current projects or future applications for the lab.

It boggles the mind to try to understand why the Bush Administration would consider closing this facility, given its past successes and potential for future returns on what is a modest investment. It seems a knee jerk reaction to proposals to cut budgets without considering the ramifications. It smacks of politics, not sound budgeting.

USDA recommended closing this lab two years ago. Fortunately, the outcry from the entire cotton industry, not just the High Plains, but the entire industry, made certain cooler and saner heads prevailed and the lab escaped closure.

We can only hope that Congress will again appreciate the value of this essential research facility and make certain this proposal never sees the light of day in any budget they agree on.

In the meantime, call your congressman. Make certain he or she knows what’s at stake.


Talk about voodoo economics.

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