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Federal Ag Research Funding Threatened

PULLMAN, Wash. — Funds for critical agricultural research at Washington State University are slated to be slashed from future U.S. Department of Agriculture budgets.

Ralph Cavalieri, WSU Agricultural Research Center director, said WSU stands to lose millions of dollars in future research grants under the proposed budget reported by a congressional conference committee.

At issue is funding for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems competitive grants program. The initiative doubled the pool of money that WSU scientists can compete for through USDA.

USDA has approved $3.2 million to fund four new WSU research projects in 2002, but the conference report would terminate funding for future years, Cavalieri says.

This competitive grant program has existed for only two years. In that time WSU scientists have received eight grants totaling $8,225,918.

“If the program is zeroed out, our research budget will take a heavy hit at a time when the state revenue stream also is declining,” Cavalieri said.

Congress authorized the initiative to address critical emerging agricultural issues related to future food production, food safety, environmental quality, natural resource management, and farm income.

“Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. George Nethercutt have been supportive,” said Jim Zuiches, dean of the WSU College of Agriculture and Home Economics, “but congressional leadership overruled them.

“It is short sighted to reduce these research and extension programs that enhance food quality and global markets, and protect the environment,” Zuiches said.

The USDA appropriations bill now nearing floor votes in the U.S. House and Senate includes the following competitive grants under the endangered program:

  • $2 million for research on barley genetics, for use in a small-grain improvement program. Andris Kleinhofs, a WSU molecular bioscientist in the crop and soil sciences department, will lead this project. It involves collecting and sharing barley genetics information with scientists to speed development of barley, wheat and rye varieties.
  • $800,000 for research led by Craig Cogger, to study the benefits and costs of using organic waste streams in small-scale agriculture. Cogger is a soil scientist at WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center. The research will identify locally available organic waste that could be valuable in small-scale farm operations, assess farmer perceptions about using these wastes, and conduct economic studies on the potential value of incorporating organic waste into sustainable farming operations.
  • $252,838 for field studies of wheat genomics. This research is led by Kim Campbell, a USDA scientist in the WSU crop and soils department. She will develop a national wheat marker assisted selection consortium involving 12 wheat-breeding and research programs across the United States. Available molecular markers will be used to transfer 24 resistance genes for rusts, virus and insects, and 17 gene variants related to bread, pasta and noodle quality into 328 adapted varieties for breeding lines. No genetic engineering will be used.
  • $196,115 to maintaining the competitiveness of tree fruit production through precision agriculture. Fran Pierce, director of the WSU Center for Precision Agricultural Systems, WSU Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, leads this research. The project involves development of technologies that will allow producers to trace yields to specific trees. This will allow scientists to individualize management practices, instead of treating all trees the same. WSU and Florida scientists will collaborate in research involving apples and oranges.

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