By The Associated Press
HATTISBURG – The boll weevil was wiped out as a threat to cotton crops across the South in the 1950s thanks partly to federally funded research at Mississippi State University.
The labs, however, still operate, studying new sources of renewable energy and ways to make fuel out of wood and fiber. But such research 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.
George Hopper, interim dean of MSU’s College of Agriculture, said the proposed cut in federal grants would force the college to accept fewer graduate students.
“These particular cuts are really, really disappointing,” he said. “We won’t be able to have as many graduate students. That’s the long and the short of it.”
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 Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi, 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.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on agriculture, said he expects the role of Agricultural Research Service to be a “significant part of the debate” on the spending bill.
“I believe the Agriculture Research Service provides a valuable and beneficial service in support of food nutrition, food safety and the agriculture industry,” Cochran said in an email. “My interest will be in seeing that the funding decisions for this program are fair, in light of the budgetary challenges that the country is currently facing.”
Hopper said the proposed cut in federal grant money could affect the global food supply.
“When it comes to food production we’re an important component of the supply chain across the globe,” he said.
“The United States feeds the world. Our exports actually exceed our imports.”
Cutbacks in university research also could result in higher food prices and could slow the development of technologies that produce food more efficiently, Hopper said.
“When we see these cuts in research and education that are being recommended … eventually we won’t have that research in the field of agriculture,” he said.