Henry A. Wallace Beltsville National Agricultural Research Center continues to need our support. This just in from a local newspaper. The members of the new Alliance hope to gather in January 2007 for a formal organizational meeting and follow that with a congressional delegation tour and get-together. If you have comments that you want to address to me personally please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or respond to this post.
County residents, scientists push for research center
Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006
by Dennis Carter
A collection of Prince George’s County residents and former scientists is looking to grab the ear of local and national decision makers as the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) continues to face budgetary struggles.
BARC, which is hailed as the largest and most diverse agricultural research facility in the world, has been forced to make staff cuts in recent years to compensate for small budget increases that have not kept up with the rate of inflation and pension plans, among other costs.
BARC is offering buyouts and early retirements to 160 employees after the 2007 federal budget included $9 million in cuts, including the closure of the fruit and phytonutrients lab, which searches for compounds in fruits and vegetables that could protect against heart disease and cancer. BARC employs about 1,300 people.
BARC’s current budget is about $130 million, said director Phyllis Johnson, who has headed the facility for a decade.
Johnson said the buyouts would allow BARC to focus funding for the facility’s most vital programs in coming years.
‘‘We have to live within our means,” she said. ‘‘We will deal with the resources we’ve been given.”
Last fall, longtime Beltsville residents such as Jim Butcher and Karen Coakley, president of the Beltsville Citizens Association, joined former scientists and Prince George’s business owners to form the National Agricultural Research Alliance — Beltsville (NARAB).
While group members said the alliance is in its early stages, they hope to lobby county, state and national politicians to ensure BARC is a viable, functioning research center.
‘‘We need to talk with decision makers so we can get BARC back up to speed again,” said Butcher, a Beltsville resident for more than 40 years.
Butcher said he would serve as a liaison between NARAB and Friends for Agricultural Research Beltsville, a group of local residents concerned about the state of BARC.
John Peter Thompson, chairman of Behnkes nurseries who grew up in Beltsville, said NARAB would ‘‘educate” power brokers to inform them of the importance of BARC research.
With a budget that grows at about 2.7 percent annually, Thompson said BARC has not been able to keep up with rising costs in many areas since the mid-1990s.
‘‘It’s a slow withering of the vine,” said Thompson, adding that no political party should take the blame for BARC’s struggles, since both parties have occupied the White House over the last 10 years. ‘‘This isn’t how you run things. [BARC] is something that should not be allowed to wither.”
Having a national research center on the outskirts of one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, Thompson said, is critical for scientists who come to Beltsville to work.
‘‘There are world class scientists and world class universities all around [the area],” he said, pointing out that a rich population of researchers can promote ‘‘interdisciplinary conversation.”
‘‘When [a scientist] needs a piece of equipment, it can found in this area,” he said.
Wanda Plumer, a NARAB member and director of business development retention and expansion for the Prince George’s Development Corporation, said BARC’s impact on the local economy — bringing college-educated people to the area — should not be overlooked by county residents.
Attracting broader attention would be a key in growing the alliance, Plumer said.
‘‘Because of BARC’s national significance, we’d like to see membership go beyond just local members.”
E-mail Dennis Carter at email@example.com.
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