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Editorial — USDA’s decision great news for agriculture

Farmers and the University of Minnesota got some good news last week in this otherwise stormy spring when USDA’s Animal and Plant health Inspection Service approved a new state-of-the-art laboratory on the U of M’s St. Paul campus.

The laboratory will do research on plant pathogens, including research on pests that cause costly Asian soybean rust, Ug99 stem rust in wheat and Sudden Oak Death.

The move ensures that Minnesota’s scientific research in agriculture will be relevant into the 21st century. There are just three universities in the country that have been approved to do research on exotic plant pathogens in a combined laboratory and greenhouse containment facility.

The facility is part of a $24 million plant growth facilities project on the campus. The physical plant includes classrooms, 15,000 square feet of growing space in state-of-the-art greenhouses and an insect quarantine facility, which opened in 2003.

With the new facilities comes hope the U of M will be able to attract some of the country’s top research scientists. That’s important because the institution has been losing skilled scientists and Extension specialists at an alarming rate in recent years. The budget-caused decline in the Extension Service’s role in agriculture has weakened what has always been a top-notch department.

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The new laboratory should infuse new life into the U of M and it is great news for Minnesota agriculture.

Crop disease issues, especially now that the genetic base for soybeans, corn and other key crops as become so narrow, will likely increase in future years. Diseases that once were fairly localized in distant parts of the world can and have spread quickly.

Research into crop diseases must be part and parcel in the world’s commitment to increasing food production to meet the needs of a growing population.

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