[permaculture] Agriculturalists try to save research center | weslaco, agriculturalists, center - TheMonitor.com

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Thu Jun 30 22:03:37 EDT 2011

Agriculturalists try to save research center | weslaco,
agriculturalists, center - TheMonitor.com

Agriculturalists try to save research center
Comments 2
June 30, 2011 9:20 AM
Elizabeth Findell
The Monitor

WESLACO — The message was urgent as local farmers, scientists and
others gathered Wednesday at the Kika de la Garza Subtropical
Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Weslaco to discuss the center’s

Scientists have worked at the location, operated by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, since 1931, studying citrus, potatoes,
vegetables, sugar and the invasive pests and diseases that affect

“Now this place is listed to be closed,” said Ray Prewett, president
of Texas Citrus Mutual. “Not reduced. Closed.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an agricultural appropriation
bill this month that will eliminate the lab, along with nine others
across the country, unless the bill is changed when the Senate
considers it later this year.

“The Committee directs the agency to focus its resources on only the
highest priority research,” the appropriations committee report reads.

Those affected in the Rio Grande Valley argued that they should be
among the highest priority research centers, particularly in light of
their South Texas home.

“There is no other lab like this anywhere in the United States, on the
border with Mexico,” Prewett said. It’s “a strategic location.”

SARC’s location allows it to provide a first line of defense against
invasive species and diseases that spread from Mexico through trade
and agriculture, advocates argue.

Texas recently surpassed Arizona as the largest fruit and vegetable
point of entry to the U.S., bringing more potential pests this way.
Additionally, violence in Mexico has hindered USDA efforts to work on
surveying diseases including the devastating citrus greening.

“If we can’t stop them before they cross the Rio Grande river, we want
to stop them as quickly as possible once they get here,” Prewett said.

SARC takes pride in being able to react more quickly than other
research institutions to respond to new diseases, conference attendees

The center is the only one on the U.S. mainland that researches
tropical diseases and pests, one of only four that does work on honey
bees and one of only four that has a quarantine study area.

The center employs 113 scientists, technicians and other staff
members. A Texas A&M University analysis estimated the region would
lose those jobs, plus more than 100 more indirectly if the center is

Salomon Torres, district director for U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, said
the effort to save SARC isn’t a lost cause yet.

“The merits are there — what remains is convincing key appropriators
on the Senate side,” he said. “It’s a matter of refreshing their

The bill will likely be taken up by the Senate in September or October.

“We know there’s budget issues, we know there’s going to be cuts, but
we’ve really been targeted here,” Prewett said. “It’s a big deal for
Weslaco, the Rio Grande Valley, the state of Texas and
internationally, as we see it.”


Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, the Mid-Valley and
general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956)

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