As part of the federal government’s efforts to reduce the nation’s burgeoning deficit, the U.S. Department of Agri-culture is consolidating and closing 259 of its offices across the country, including four in California.
Those four closures include a cotton research station in Kern County; an Animal Plant Health Inspection Service facility in Monterey County involved in research and inspections associated with the light brown apple moth; a Natural Resources Conser-vation Service office in Los Angeles County that conducts soil surveys; and a Food and Nutrition Service office in Los Angeles County that oversees the redemption functions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamps benefits.
Although USDA is also closing 131 Farm Service Agency offices, none in California has been targeted.
Earl Williams, president and CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, says the closure of the Agriculture Research Service station in Shafter is a concern to the state’s cotton farmers because of the important work that researchers are doing on the disease fusarium oxysporum, specifically Race 4 of that organism, which has become “a serious problem for California’s cotton industry.”
That particular organism is currently found only in California, he says, and ARS researchers in Shafter were doing the lead work on the disease, primarily trying to develop genetic resistant cotton varieties and controls to contain the problem.
Critical Loss For Cotton
Established in 1922, the Shafter research station is one of 12 ARS programs at 10 locations that Congress approved for closure as part of a federal spending bill President Obama signed into law in November. The bill cuts USDA’s discretionary spending for the 2012 fiscal year by $350 million, including $38 million for ARS.
The Shafter facility, which is owned by Kern County and operated by ARS on a no-cost lease arrangement, actually closed on Oct. 1, but it did not cease full operation until the appropriations bill became law, says Andrew Hammond, USDA-ARS director of the Pacific West Area.
Employees there are being offered “other assignments elsewhere in the agency and positions for which they’re qualified,” he adds. They will be given their new assignments in the next several weeks.
“Should they choose to accept their redirected assignments, they’ll be going to positions associated with other funded research projects, and so it isn’t necessarily what they were working on in Shafter,” Hammond says.
Lygus Research Affected
In addition to research on fusarium Race 4, scientists at Shafter were working on pest management solutions for the lygus organism. Fusarium is the more “serious threat” facing California cotton producers. However, Williams says, with the state’s in-creased acreages last year, “this disease showed up everywhere,” noting that six counties in the San Joaquin Valley have now reported several infected fields.
Hammond says ARS recognizes the importance of the fusarium work and will continue to conduct some research on the disease at other ARS locations in the state where there is cotton research being done.
“We will do what we can to carry on research on these same problems elsewhere where we have critical mass and capacity to do that research. It just won’t be done at Shafter,” he says.
Regarding the closure of the APHIS facility in Monterey County, Larry Hawkins, APHIS spokesman in Sacramento, says that building in Moss Landing housed USDA’s regulatory staff who performed quarantine inspections for the light brown apple moth and researchers who were rearing sterile versions of the moth used to combat infestations.
Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert and can be contacted in California at firstname.lastname@example.org.