Dismantling Subtropical Research Center defies logic

I wonder who is responsible for painting the targets on specific USDA research facilities identified as not important enough to maintain.

I wonder where they get their information.

I wonder if they bother to assess the importance of research centers before they determine which ones to dismantle.

I wonder if they play a high stakes game of pin the tail on the donkey and blindly pick which centers will feel the pain of the budget ax.

I fear the last and most asinine (if you’ll excuse the pun) observation may be closer to accurate than I’d like to believe. How else can we account for the planned closing of the Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas?

No region wants to lose a valuable research center. Removing a USDA facility takes a bite out of the local economy and removes a valuable asset that farmers and ranchers use to gauge varieties, techniques and applications that are unique to their location. The loss also takes away an opportunity to accumulate essential research data that could be significant to future producers and consumers.

The SARC, however, has provided even more benefits than a typical research center for many years. It hugs the U.S. /Mexican border, an area through which much of the food imported into the United States passes.

“In many respects, the center is the first and last defense against subtropical pests and diseases entering the U.S. agriculture system from Mexico, and without this protection, serious consequences could develop that could have a devastating effect on the U.S. agriculture industry,” says Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual in Mission, Texas, in a recent story on the Farm Press webpage.

That article also points out that the SARC is the only facility on the U.S. mainland that researches quarantine issues related to tropical pests. It’s one of only four that does work on honeybees. Scientists work on citrus greening, zebra chip in potatoes, fever tick eradication in cattle, control and eradication of invading tropical fruit flies—especially the Mexican fruit fly, which infests 150 kinds of fruits and vegetables.

And the center is a critical piece of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

Researchers here work on the development of bio-fuels from sugar, hot water dips for importation of certain produce items, and setting international standards for radiation and quarantine.

And it’s on the list of nine USDA research facilities across the nation targeted for closure next year.

A similar misjudgment was avoided several years ago when cotton gin research laboratories in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas, were on the chopping block. Somehow, those centers survived.

But Prewett and other farm industry observers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are not optimistic that last-minute pleas to USDA budget cutters will be enough to save the SARC. Demands from Congress to cut budgets seem likely to prevail.

We don’t suggest that the government doesn’t need to trim down a bit. We appreciate the efforts to remove waste from USDA as well as every other government agency. But we contend that agriculture has suffered a deeper gash from the budget ax than can be justified.

Too many proposed budget cuts, in and out of agriculture and certainly including dismantling the SARC, seem to be initiated with little or no regard for the benefits lost. In too many cases cuts appear to have been made on the basis of what percentage of elected officials’ base would be affected and not what harm the cut would do to local economies, an industry or to the nation as a whole.

We need more common sense and less donkey tail logic.

TAGS: Management
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