Agricultural cuts just wrong
Agriculture is extremely important to the economy of the state of Washington. According to the Washington Employment Security Department, agriculture and ag-related employment represents about 55 percent of the state's total workforce.
So it is troubling to see that the federal budget proposed by President Bush for 2006 includes drastic cuts in agricultural research funding. The president's budget plan for fiscal year 2006 calls for slashing fully half of the funding for the Hatch Act, which has provided federal support for agricultural research since 1890. Even worse, President Bush wants to provide zero funding for this vital program as of fiscal year 2007.
Why does the administration want to gut this valuable endeavor? It's not like billions of dollars are involved here. The federal government provides the Department of Agriculture with a relative pittance for this research -- $179 million nationwide for 2005.
These cuts would hit the state of Washington hard. Of the $179 million President Bush wants to take away, $3.5 million of that goes to Washington State University for operation of nine agricultural research centers around the state. The communities where these facilities are located are mostly small and rural, so it stands to reason that the loss of funding for these programs will be devastating. Take a look at the list of where the WSU agricultural research centers are located: Prosser, Lind, Mount Vernon, Long Beach, Vancouver, Othello, Colockum Creek, Wenatchee, and Puyallup.
For just one prime example of how the Hatch Act funds have boosted the economy of Washington -- and Klickitat County in particular -- consider this: Several years back, WSU's Prosser facility was the one involved in research to identify regions of the state where grape cultivation and wine production would be productive. The result of that research today is a $2.4 billion (and growing) wine industry, and Washington has become the second largest producer of wines in the United States, trailing only California. Klickitat County's recent move to position itself as a productive wine region is an indirect result of work conducted at the Prosser research center.
WSU officials point out that loss of the research funding will have a serious ripple effect, making it more difficult for the university to compete for separate private and public funding sources. Further, approximately 100 employees of WSU -- faculty, staff, and graduate assistants -- would lose their jobs.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D.-Wash.) has taken a lead role in trying to keep the research funding in place, and she deserves support in her cause.
In a letter to the chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Robert Bennett (R.-Kansas), Cantwell wrote: "The research conducted at WSU has helped to support Washington state's diverse agricultural economy for more than 100 years, and continues to serve an increasingly important role in keeping Washington producers competitive in the expanding global economy while also helping to ensure the safety of our crops and domestic food supply."
Since passage of the Land Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890, the federal government has helped the states and land-grant colleges by channeling money for agricultural research. The results are clear cut and positive, and we see them right here in Klickitat County.
The Bush administration's proposed funding cuts for this research are downright foolish. The move would undercut the American farmer and hamper our agricultural industry in all its forms. If Congress goes along, it will be a blow to the economy of our state and our county.