Merkley, Walden back Pendleton ag station

The federal Agricultural Research Service in Pendleton has another congressional ally in Sen. Jeff Merkley.

With significant budget cuts looming, the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center can at least count on bipartisan support from Oregon’s congressional leaders in Washington, D.C.
Both Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, and Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican, recently spoke up to defend the station, located on Tubbs Ranch Road between Pendleton and Adams.

Part of the federal Agricultural Research Service, the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Service stands to lose $911,000 — nearly half its annual funding — under President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget.

That would force the program to end its research into no-till farming for winter wheat and lay off three of five staff scientists. Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said he is working with his Republican counterparts to craft a bill that will fully fund the ARS.

“Oregon’s economic success depends on agriculture,” Merkley said in a statement. “Cutting local agricultural research that can respond directly to the challenges and opportunities our farmers and ranchers see on the ground means missing out on huge opportunities to strengthen our economy and support Oregon families.”

In March, Walden also sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee that, among other things, asks for budgetary language directing the ARS to support local field stations.

“Despite the positive impact of real world research, the Agricultural Research Service’s proposed reductions in dryland wheat research at their Pendleton station continues a troubling trend in the Pacific Northwest,” Walden said. “It is concerning that the ARS has not laid out a clear plan for this localized research to continue.”

Oregon’s other senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, sent a letter in April to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explaining how research in Pendleton could lead to greater productivity and profitability for wheat farmers across the country.

Since 2010, researchers at the station have looked into ways no-till farming can retain moisture in soil and cut down on wind erosion, without sacrificing yield. Soil scientists Stewart Wuest and Hero Gollany, as well as hydrologist John Williams, all work on the no-till project and are drafting a new five-year plan for the project — so long as funding remains intact.

The president’s budget calls for cuts at multiple ARS stations, including those in Pendleton and Corvallis, in order for the Department of Agriculture to shift money to what the administration has identified as higher priority projects.

Wuest said farmers are slowly beginning to experiment with no-till, but it is a gradual process. Growers can’t afford to risk their crop unless they are reasonably sure something new will work. That’s where the ARS comes in with the data, he said.