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Agricultural research hit hard as USDA labs close

Agricultural research hit hard as USDA labs close
USDA will close 12 labs, including nine research locations and three units within a larger research station. Ag research projects around the U.S. will feel the spill-over effects of scheduled lab closings.

Agricultural research projects around the country will feel the spill-over effects of scheduled lab closings as USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) cuts from other projects the $40 million needed to move personnel and unwind real estate commitments.

The fiscal year 2012 federal budget, finalized by Congress in November, mandated that ARS close 12 labs, including nine research locations and three units within a larger research station. A similar proposal had been made by the Obama administration in its FY2012 budget.

Shutting facilities down and moving the 300 or so affected employees, however, comes with a cost – about $40 million, university researchers learned this week as they were informed their own budgets would be cut to make up the difference.

ARS is cutting $21.6 million from extramural programs through an across-the-board, 30 percent reduction to all cooperative agreements with universities and initiatives, based on their FY2011 funding levels.

Flagship wheat research projects affected by these cuts include the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), a landmark public-private-federal cooperative agreement, which will face a reduction of $1.4 million from a total budget of around $5 million.

Additional cuts will be made to university projects funded through the USDA Wheat Rust Initiative, which conducts research on leaf, stripe and stem rust, including Ug99.

“Our commitment to the mission of the Scab Initiative is not diminished in the slightest,” said Dave Van Sanford, USWBSI co-chair and wheat breeder at the University of Kentucky.

“Nevertheless, a 30 percent budget reduction means that fewer breeding lines will be screened, fewer plots sprayed, and fewer gene constructs evaluated. We look forward to a return to full funding in FY13 so that our efforts to minimize the impact of head scab on the wheat industry can continue at full throttle.”

To facilitate the closure expenses, across-the-board cuts have also been made to internal ARS programs, and the agency is continuing a hiring freeze that was already in place.

Funding for universities through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and its grant program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), won’t be affected.

NAWG continues to make the case for additional federal government funding for agricultural research efforts, which is far outpaced by federal funding for research in health and other areas.

More than three-quarters of the 50 million acres of wheat grown in the U.S. is planted with varieties developed with public research, which makes federal programs extremely important to wheat farmers, even as private dollars going to wheat research dramatically increase and state grower associations seek to increase their farmers’ direct investments.

Analysis of the return on investment from public agricultural research and extension shows each dollar spent returns about $32 to society.

More about ag research and the wheat industry’s research priorities is at

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