Congressman tours LSU AgCenter research station

Bruce Schultz  |  7/9/2008 12:57:17 AM

News Release Distributed 07/08/2008

ALEXANDRIA – LSU AgCenter officials met Monday (July 7) with U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander to stress the importance of federal agricultural research funding.

After the presentation, Alexander said as representative of Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, he understands the need for federal research allocations for agriculture because farming is a big part of the northeastern and central Louisiana economies.

“We try to keep up with the problems of agriculture as much as we can,” he said.

Alexander said the House appropriations process begins this week and will conclude with a spending bill by fall.

Alexander sits on the House Agriculture Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee.

The congressman said appropriations earmarks now have a negative connotation, but the allocations process can be an efficient way to make sure the research dollars get to the most deserving projects without becoming bogged in the federal bureaucracy. Otherwise, he said, “You may not get the funding you need.”

The meeting was held at the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station south of Alexandria. The congressman also got a tour of the new 230,000-square-foot Louisiana Emergency Center located there.

The meeting was held to inform Alexander how federal research funding is used by the LSU AgCenter, said Dr. David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research.

Boethel said formula funding is used to pay faculty salaries, fund graduate students and buy supplies for research that goes beyond the state’s borders.

“The projects we work on have national implications,” he said.

Dr. Steve Moore, LSU AgCenter agronomist, told Alexander the first discovery of Asian soybean rust in Louisiana – and in the United States – was made by an LSU AgCenter researcher.

“Within the first 24 hours, the president was notified because there was a fear it could wipe out the soybean crop,” Moore said.

Moore said the system used to scout and identify Asian soybean rust can be used for other pests nationwide.

The soybean disease could have caused up to $299 million in damage, said Dr. Clayton Hollier, an LSU AgCenter pathologist. But he added that the $3.2 million spent on detection and information distribution minimized the effects.

In another area, federal competitive grants of $30 million are available under the new farm bill this fiscal year for specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables, said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension.

Coreil said most parishes in the state assist with funding the offices of local LSU AgCenter offices, and the state legislature also provides funding, but federal dollars are essential to the AgCenter’s mission.

“Your support on the Agriculture Committee has been tremendous,” Coreil told Alexander.

The LSU AgCenter’s scientists are located across the state to meet producers’ needs, said Dr. Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor.

“We want to do the research as close to the clients as we can,” Richardson said.

Commodity prices have increased dramatically, but so have input costs, said Dr. Kurt Guidry, an LSU AgCenter economist. Guidry said he fears prices could decline abruptly, leaving farmers with huge debts they cannot pay.

“Is it worse than it’s ever been?” Alexander asked.

Guidry said the risks facing farmers are among the most formidable they have faced. He said farmers accustomed to borrowing $225,000 a few years ago to plant 1,000 acres now are taking out loans exceeding $400,000.

He said farmers are not able to get long-range contracts with the high commodity prices quoted by the Chicago Board of Trade. Guidry said speculators have helped increase commodity prices.

“The last thing we want is for speculative buyers to get out of the market at one time,” Guidry said.

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Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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