Farm bill may bring funding to U research

by Justin Horwath

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz toured the University Friday, meeting with St. Paul campus deans, agricultural researchers and University President Bob Bruininks.

Walz serves on the House Agricultural Committee. The committee is currently putting together the 2007 Farm Bill, which could affect University research initiatives.

He said the main focus of the visit was to look at what the University is doing with the Soybean Genomics Project.

“We’re requesting some appropriations to help further the project,” he said. “For soybean producers in the 1st (Congressional) District, the research that’s going on here, their livelihood depends on it.”

Seth Naeve, an extension soybean agronomist, said the project involves research on how to manipulate soybean genes to increase protein and oil content. He said there is only one part-time U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher heading it, but the University supports the project.

“There’s interest in getting full funding,” he said. “(The project) is kind of functioning at half-speed.”

Walz represents the largely rural 1st District that spans the southern stretch of the state from Wisconsin to South Dakota, where soybean crops are abundant.

The freshman Democratic congressman said he doesn’t think Washington is allocating enough money for agricultural research.

“We want to make sure (public research Universities) have the stability in funding,” he said

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, said the visit was productive, although he worries about potential budget cuts in the farm bill.

“(I) always worry that there’s not going to be enough funding for research,” he said. “I don’t think the typical farmers or the average person really understand just how important the public research program is to agriculture.”

He said about one-third of the association’s budget, or about $1 million per year, goes to research programs at the University.

“(The tour) wasn’t just for the sake of learning,” he said. “We were trying to show him what we are trying to accomplish.”

The association and the University have worked together for more than 30 years.

Al Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources, said approximately one-third of the college’s budget goes toward outreach and extension programs, including experiment station funding, where University researchers study at satellite locations across the state.

“I think that (Walz) learned a lot from this (visit) that was useful for him,” he said. “He wants to make certain that Minnesota and his district get the needs they have, and University research is really important to making that successful.”

University spokesman Dan Wolter said President Bruininks and the congressman met for the first time to discuss University issues.

“It was an informal, get-to-know meeting,” he said. “President Bruininks greatly appreciates Congressman Walz’s interest in learning more about the University and its impact on Minnesota’s quality of life.”

Agricultural education and animal science sophomore Lucas Sjostrom is an intern on the House Agricultural Committee and thinks the farm bill is going to turn out well for Minnesota.

“As long as the University has new ideas, we’re going to be OK,” he said.

Sjostrom said Minnesota is in a more favorable position than in the past because the state has a chair on the House Agricultural Committee. Before, representatives from Southern states dominated the committee.

“If you’re a corn or dairy farmer from Minnesota, you might be helped out a little more,” he said. “They’re trying to put more money into conservation, energy and research altogether.”