What is in this article?:
- Agriculture research future threatened by budget cuts
- Attrition grows
- Continuing funding cuts at the state and federal level are threatening the research capacity for almonds and other California crops.
- Within the next decade, fully half of the current ANR members will retire.
- Reduced federal spending for USDA Agricultural Research Service last year eliminated funds for some 120 ARS scientists and staff overnight; 10 research stations and programs closed in 2011.
In collaboration with Extension researchers and with support from the Almond Board, entomology farm advisor (now emeritus) Walt Bentley developed IPM approaches and alternative control strategies that have reduced the use of the highest risk insecticides (carbamates and organophosphates) in California Almonds by 80 percent to 90 percent since 1995. Within the next decade, it is expected the almond industry will lose half of its current farm advisors and half its agricultural experiment station research staff. Photo: Sustainable Cotton Project.
Virtually all California crops have benefited from public funding for agricultural research. This funding not only supports staff and facilities for basic laboratory and field research, but also supports applied research and Extension that moves basic research into commercial settings and helps communicate findings and recommendations developed through that research to the grower community.
Research through university campuses, UC Cooperative Extension, and USDA Agricultural Research Service not only improves productivity and makes California growers more competitive in the international market, it also helps producers use resources more efficiently and minimize environmental and other societal impacts.
Competitive Farm Bill Specialty Crop Block Grants and other sources have provided increased financial resources in recent years to initiate and leverage ongoing research. For almonds, these funds have not only leveraged our ongoing research but have also enabled us to pursue more comprehensive and interdisciplinary work in such areas as fertility and irrigation management, honey bee health, and rootstock development.
Although welcome, these new sources of competitive funding do not go far enough. They do not address the need for permanent funding to sustain the faculty and staff who generate the new technology. A new phrase has come into use to describe this condition —research capacity.
Loss of Farm Advisors and Researchers
Continuing funding cuts at the state and federal level are threatening the research capacity for almonds and other California crops. A recent review of the outlook for research capacity in almonds reveals a startling reality. Within the next decade, it is expected the almond industry will lose half of its current farm advisors and half its agricultural experiment station research staff —and this 10-year trend has already started.
To date, 44 percent of the state’s almond acreage is not covered by a farm advisor, with current vacancies in Fresno, Madera, Kern and Glenn Counties. These farm advisors regularly conduct problem-solving research under regional growing conditions, often adapting and applying basic research findings, and also regularly communicate with growers and their PCAs, and farm managers through field days and farm calls. The lack of farm advisors in this important San Joaquin Valley region also puts significant strain on current farm advisors in other counties.