Bill includes language that would preserve Sidney’s ARS unit

Willison Herald and Sidney Herald

by Renee Jean

A successful haymaker has just been thrown in the funding fight for the Sidney ARS unit.

The 2017 Ag Appropriations Bill is headed to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a vote with language that ensures the Northern Plains Research Lab in Sidney will remain fully staffed and operational.

Senator Jon Tester, who is a member of the subcommittee that authored the bill, said the language should guarantee that the lab in Sidney can continue to research the impact of the wheat stem sawfly, which annually causes more than $250 million in crop damage every year across the nation, including $80 million in damages in Montana.

“Sawflies are a serious threat to the bottom line of Montana producers,” Tester said. “The hard-working folks at Sidney’s research lab do outstanding work, and this bill gives them certainty to continue to provide local farmers with the most up-to-date research available.”

Senator Steve Daines also worked on behalf of the Sidney ARS unit to help push this item into the appropriations bill, and was thanked by the Montana Grain Growers Association for his efforts.

“The Montana Grain Growers Association thanks Sen. Daines for protecting the ARS Insect Research Unit in Sidney, and for his efforts to secure increased funding for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative,” said Rob Davis, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. “Both programs provide essential research and services that benefit grain growers across Montana and the West. The MGGA appreciates Sen. Daines’ ongoing efforts to fight for Montana ag.”

John Gaskin, research leader at the Sidney ARS unit, said he was pleased to see the agriculture bill move forward.

“We are, of course, particularly pleased that language regarding preservation of programs and personnel at the Sidney ARS location is included,” Gaskin said. “While we don’t know what the final budget legislation will ultimately include, we appreciate the unanimous support show by Senator Tester and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for the agricultural research at both the Sidney location and across the nation.”

Jerry Bergman, director of the Williston Research and Extension Center, said it is great news for agriculture in the MonDak.

“That this critical and vital research on wheat stem sawfly and grasshoppers will continue at the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Research Laboratory in Sidney is great news. both of these insect pests are a major threat to our ag producers and crop and grasslands production in Montana and western North Dakota,” he said. “I appreciate Senator Tester’s voice and vote of support and the support of all the Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations committee that supported the continuation of federal funding for research on these insect pests.”

The insect pest research unit had been in the budget crosshairs under the President’s proposed 2017 budget, which would have eliminated $1.3 million for insect research at the laboratory in Sidney, a figure that includes all insect research done there.

That includes grasshopper, and Mormon cricket as well as wheat stem sawfly.

The lab had been asked to redirect a total of $66.3 million in existing funds to climate change, clean water, foreign animal diseases, antimicrobial resistance and avian influenza under the president’s proposal.

The insect research program was among those selected to make that change happen. Two of four scientists and their technicians would have been moved to either the weed or biocontrol program and the other two would have been sent to other ARS laboratories outside of Montana.

The USDA-ARS lab is the only one delving into the secrets of the wheat stem sawfly, fighting back against the millions in crop damage they do every year.

Other highlights in the ag bill now headed to the Senate floor

Brucellosis Disease Management – Directs the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to work with relevant local, state and federal agencies to improve communication and utilize sound science to develop effective strategies for managing brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Additionally, the bill directs funding towards zoonotic disease management, which would advance research into vaccines and other tools to counter brucellosis.

Military Veterans in Agriculture – Creates incentives for military veterans to explore career opportunities in production agriculture. It provides $5 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of the Secretary for veteran outreach initiatives and $2.5 million for the Food and Agriculture Resilience Program for Military Veterans (FARM-Vets) under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture – the first funding the program has received. The bill also includes funding to waive FSA loan application fees for veteran farmers and ranchers.

U.S. Wheat Barley Scab Initiative – Daines secured increased funding for the U.S. Wheat Barley Scab Initiative to help producers fight this disease that is becoming a serious problem for Western states like Montana.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Increases transparency within all agencies of USDA. The agencies are encouraged to disclose costs associated with analyses required by NEPA.

Forest Products Research: Highlights the importance of the forest products sector to the U.S. economy and the need to develop and utilize new and improved forest products.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) – Prohibits closure of FSA county offices, and provides resources for personnel and physical security programs across county offices.

Rural Infrastructure – $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, the same as the FY2016 enacted level. The measure provides $6.94 billion for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans.

Farm-to-School Initiative – improves access schools have to locally produced food.

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations – provides USDA quality foods to low-income households in Indian Country.