Budget cuts threaten ag research

Proposed cuts in President George W. Bush's budget request for FY 2006 would jeopardize the future of Alabama's agricultural and forestry research program and deal a blow to the state's economy, Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES) officials said recently.

Under the president's budget proposal, all funding for programs that provide base research monies for America's land-grant universities would be slashed. The budget proposal would cut agricultural and forestry research dollars from the Hatch and McIntire-Stennis acts by half in 2006 and eliminate them entirely in 2007. Animal health funding would be deleted in FY 2006.

Funding for AAES research comes from the federal Hatch, McIntire-Stennis and Animal Health funds, which in turn generate millions of dollars in matching state funds and grants. If the proposed cuts are enacted, the AAES would lose $4.5 million in federal formula funds from these three sources, which is 15 percent of the AAES's total research program support, said Katie Jackson, AAES spokeswoman.

The AAES at Auburn University, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has carried out its land-grant mission using federal formula funds for more than 120 years. Research conducted through this partnership has provided countless benefits to citizens of Alabama and the nation by solving critical agricultural, natural resource and rural development needs that impact the nation's economic, physical and social well-being.

If the AAES is to continue to fulfill its mission to develop knowledge and technology that enhance Alabama's economy, help Alabama producers compete globally, and insure the security, safety and quality of the state's food supply, existing research programs must be maintained and new ones must be established. The proposed funding cuts would severely curtail the AAES's ability to sustain and build its research program, Jackson said.

The economic impact on the state also would be profound. For example, the stability and future growth of Alabama's agricultural sector, which currently provides 21 percent of Alabama's jobs and 22 percent of the state's gross economic output, would be seriously jeopardized. Funding for forestry research programs, which support a $5 billion industry, would be cut in half in 2006 and eliminated in 2007.

In addition, current and future research programs would be cut for two emerging agricultural industries that show great potential for future economic development and job creation in Alabama: aquaculture, worth $250 million, and horticulture, with farm-gate cash receipts of more than $303 million.

Poultry research, which supports Alabama's $8.5 billion poultry industry, would be cut drastically, and research for Alabama's $2 billion cattle industry — the state's second largest agricultural industry with farm-gate receipts of more than $425 million — would be significantly reduced.

Research on cotton, which is grown in 59 of Alabama's 67 counties and has a farm-gate value of more than $230 million, would be cut by more than 30 percent in 2006 and 60 percent or more in 2007.

What's more, funding cuts would severely affect the operating budgets of AAES research and Extension centers, possibly forcing the closing of four of the six centers located statewide.

The AAES, established by the Alabama Legislature in 1883, is the research arm of the College of Agriculture, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, the College of Human Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University.

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