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Morris’ laboratory fate remains unknown

By Carol Stender

cstender@agrinews.com

MORRIS, Minn. — Supporters of the Morris-based USDA-ARS soils lab aren’t sure what the future holds for the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, but they’ll be making their case for the lab in Washington, D.C. early next month.

Three members of the Barnes-Aastad Association, the support organization for the lab, and one University of Minnesota-Morris student-intern will make the trek to Capitol Hill March 1-5.

The annual trip by the Barnes-Aastad Association has never been so important.

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The lab is one of 11 USDA-ARS labs and 40 research projects slated for closure in the 2009 budget bill. The action is the result of a proposed $84 million cut by former President George W. Bush to the ARS’s more than $1.1 billion budget. Although there is a new administration, it’s up to Congress to vote on the budget bill, said Barnes-Aastad member Sue Dieter. The lab was originally scheduled to close in October 2008 but, since lawmakers didn’t vote on the measure before year’s end, a resolution was passed to extend funding period through March.

This is Dieter’s seventh annual lobbying trip on behalf of the lab, she said. The group will meet with Minnesota lawmakers, the ARS director and representatives of the Office of Management and Budget.

Committees handling budget concerns haven’t set deadlines for the process and government staff are still being named to posts within agencies that work with the budget and ARS.

"We are hoping to have a better idea of where we stand once we get there," she said.

Senate staffers have told Dieter the recently U.S. House-passed stimulus package contains funding provisions for deferred maintenance and repairs for ARS facilities.

"We don’t know if the Morris lab was in the current fiscal budget or not," Dieter said.

Dieter realizes the annual trip is important —especially now.

"You learn more each time you go," she said.

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