Four MU agricultural research programs to receive federal funds

Thursday, January 3, 2008 | 7:42 p.m. CST; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Four MU agricultural programs could receive more than $4.7 million in federal funds as a result of the U.S. Senate’s passing of the 2008 omnibus budget bill on Dec. 18.

All four research programs are involved in policy decisions that influence animal and plant agriculture and natural resource management in Missouri, said Marc Linit, associate dean for research and extension with the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

“They are four well-established programs that have well-documented impacts for Missouri producers. Therefore, it’s very easy for our Congressional legislators to support them,” he said.

The National Plant and Genetics Security Center is slated to receive the most funds as a result of the bill.

According to Michael Arnold, budget and program management staff special assistant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the money will go toward designing and building a new facility to house the research team that’s working on campus. The building merited nearly $2.1 million from the bill.

The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute will receive over $1.1 million for its programs, the second-highest amount.

The funding MU will receive will have an impact beyond Missouri agriculture. For example, improvements MU makes to soybean crops will influence crops throughout the world.

“The soybean is the No. 1 commodity in Missouri by far and is a national major oil seed commodity in the U.S.,” said Henry Nguyen, director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology.

Nguyen said $700,000 will help the center improve soybeans for better yields by increasing stress tolerance and disease resistance, and preparing the crop for difficult environmental conditions. Improving seed composition to make the beans healthier and more nutritious is another goal.

“This is useful for enhancing human and animal feed nutrition,” Nguyen said. “We want to improve the soybean to benefit the consumer. Producers are concerned about soybean genetic improvement to be more competitive with South American countries like Argentina and Brazil.”

Nguyen said the Center coordinated with the Missouri Soybean Association to lobby for the funds.

The Center for Agroforestry plans to use the $700,000 it received to support research, according to Center director Gene Garrett. The USDA Agricultural Research Service has been a partner with the Agroforestry center for more than a decade. The funds will be used to experiment with different crops that could help small family farms.

“Our program has been very active for a lot of years,” Garrett said. “We are looking at special selection cultivars (of chestnuts) that perform best in Missouri, and we’re doing similar stuff with pecans and walnuts.”

Garrett also said the center does water quality research with bioremediation, which uses plants to break down compounds that have the potential to contaminate waterways. The center has also worked to reduce atrazine through remediation.

“Atrazine is an herbicide commonly used on corn that gets into the streams, groundwater and wells of rural Missouri. These are the kind of projects that we will use this money for,” Garrett said.

He said the federal money will directly finance graduate students’ research and about 30 to 50 individual research efforts will be supported.

“Our program is about trying to figure out crops and opportunities that can actually result in better environmental benefits for the family farm and help them pay the bills. The benefits derived are going to be very helpful for the future of agriculture in the state of Missouri.”

The 2008 omnibus budget bill still must be approved by the U.S. House and signed by President Bush. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and several other U.S. representatives from Missouri worked to pass the bill.

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