Research station closure could threaten Valley agricultural research

BUDGET CUTS: $1.2M greenhouse opened in spring will shut down.

Associated PressDecember 14, 2011 

FAIRBANKS -- Alaska's federal agriculture research station and its new $1.2 million greenhouse are closing in the spring because of federal budget cuts.

The Subarctic Agricultural Research Station is one of 10 nationwide that is closing because of a roughly $40 million cut to the Agricultural Research Service. The budget cuts also mean that all work under way at the research station in Fairbanks and projects in Palmer and Kodiak will end this spring, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Wednesday.

Carol Lewis, dean of the University of Alaska Fairbanks' School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Science, said the Fairbanks station specialized in agricultural pest management. The Palmer project focused on collecting northern plant samples, while the Kodiak office studied techniques for using fish waste for agriculture.

Lewis said the transfer of the five Fairbanks research station employees in Alaska to other stations in the western United States could take effect as early as March. The employees will have the option of retiring or leaving the service.

While research would be able to continue until spring, Lewis said no additional field work will take place.

Herrick said the research station is considering options for the use of its Alaska buildings after the closure. That includes the new greenhouse facility that opened last year to provide a year-round growing environment in Fairbanks.

Lewis said UAF will have a chance to acquire the building, but will first need to evaluate how it would be used and whether its operating costs can be absorbed.

Lewis said administrators also need to decide whether UAF should take over some of the research being done by ARS in Alaska.

"We're going to have to look at the whole package," she said. "Certainly, we're going to get together and see what can be done, but budgets are really, really tight at the university."

Lewis said she hopes the research service can eventually come back to Alaska. She said there's a precedent for a return, since its stations in Alaska were previously shut down in 1993 before being revived in 2000.

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