Tester questions staff shortage at Sidney ag lab

by Sidney Herald, Nicole Lucina

The Agricultural Resource Service is hearning concerns from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., about staffing shortages at the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney.

Dave Kuntz, the deputy communications director for Tester, said in an email sent to the Herald, “Jon is pushing hard to ensure that the research lab is fully staffed so they can conduct important research for Montana farmers and ranchers.”

Tester wrote to Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young of the Agricultural Research Service, “Over the last several years the Sidney ARS station has experienced difficulty hiring and retaining a full staff. It is important that we ensure these research stations have the resources they need to succeed. Failure to fill ARS field positions is hurting Montana agriculture, and the farmers it supports.”

Kuntz told the Herald, “It’s the research portions that is at risk.” This problem started back in 2016 and has had its ups and downs ever since. When the funding was dialed back, Tester was the one who restored the cuts and fought for the research center.

According to Kuntz, there’s no way of knowing whether or not there will be a cut. While the hope is that there could be an increase in the allotted budget for the research center, it’s going to be something that has to be fought for.

Kuntz noted, “The biggest thing is that Jon knows that farmers and ranchers depend on the research center.” He added that Tester is fighting to make sure the farmers and ranchers of Sidney have a strong and healthy yield.

Tester is on a mission to find specific answers to the questions he’s asking. “Jon is trying to get the information needed to be able to know the long term certainty of the research center,” Kuntz said.

Tester wrote a letter to the ARS director presenting the following questions; “How many positions have remained open at the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory, and how long have then been open? What steps have you taken to fill those positions? Are all the open positions posted to usajobs.gov? What steps have you taken to attract researchers to rural research stations? What impact do these vacancies have on the quality of research produced? Do you have the tools you need from Congress to fill any open positions? If not, what additional resources do you need?”