What is in this article?:
- Sub-tropical research center falls victim to federal budget woes
- Criticism from supporters
- USDA’s only subtropical agriculture research center now sits dormant on the South Texas prairie.
- USDA personnel are confirming that the Weslaco Center is one of the 259 USDA offices and facilities that will be closed this summer.
- Suspension of research and the closing of the Weslaco Center have garnered harsh criticism from local supporters.
Criticism from supporters
Suspension of research and the closing of the Weslaco Center have garnered harsh criticism from local supporters.
“The Weslaco Center is unique in that it's the only USDA facility conducting research on subtropical issues and the only USDA research center on the border. It’s the first line of defense against pests and diseases from across the border that could devastate local crops and adversely affect U.S. agriculture from coast-to-coast,” says Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual and officer of the Texas Vegetable Association in Mission, Texas.
Dr. Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton & Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, agrees.
“We have experienced a period of success fighting boll weevil in U.S. cotton, but recent setbacks in Mexico’s boll weevil eradication program now threatens our well being on this side of the border, and the (Weslaco) SARC has provided a buffer between problems like this that could spill over,” he says.
Mangan says the fate of the Center’s physical facilities are uncertain and a decision on whether the facilities will be sold or used for other purposes is unclear, but he suggests that if closing the facility is for the purpose of reducing USDA’s annual personnel budget as proposed in the blueprint, then the move to closure may not yield the desired results.
“The idea was to impose hiring controls and early separation programs for senior staff, meaning those with an adequate number of years of service who might opt for retirement, thereby reducing USDA’s overall budget. But at least in the case of the Weslaco Center, most of our senior researchers have expressed a willingness to accept reassignment to other USDA facilities. I think this may be a surprise to many who favored this blueprint for a stronger service,” Mangan said.
While many of the programs at the Weslaco Center will be moved to other locations and agencies, supporters of the Center say the inability to react quickly to border problems associated with U.S. agriculture could prove costly in the long run. In addition to providing subtropical research, Center personnel often advised and provided support to other agencies, such as the Texas Agriculture Department and Mexico’s INIFAP regional agriculture inspection and research center.
Mangan says Mexican agriculture inspectors have often requested a visit from USDA personnel to advise them on issues of pest and disease identification and on issues related to quarantine.
“It was just a quick drive across the border to offer these types of peripheral services, which often resulted in preventing a potential problem reaching our border. Once the Center closes, these types of services will no longer be available,” he warns.