What is in this article?:
- Mounting concerns over loss of the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in the LRGV.
- The Weslaco center, along with nine other ARS centers across the nation, is on a list of budget cuts.
- The outlook is dismal.
ENTOMOLOGIST Robert Mangan (left) and plant physiologist Nasir Malik of ARS’s Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center, Weslaco, Texas, observe Asian citrus psyllid infestation on new growth, called “flush,” on a Kaffir lime. The tree was completely defoliated and then given 2 weeks of specific environmental conditions to induce new flush on all its branches.
In addition to concerns for food safety, agricultural security and invasive pests and disease, closure of the center would greatly affect the economy of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In a comprehensive study performed by Parr Rosson, Professor/Extension Economist and Director, Center for North American Studies, Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University, closure of the SARC would result in the loss of 227 jobs; 113 of those would be directly associated with center operations and scientific research and 114 attributed to the loss of purchases by the SARC or its employees.
The published report indicates employment losses would amount to $10.2 million in income, $6.3 million of which is attributed directly to salaries and wages at the Center. These losses in employment and income are estimated to subsequently reduce total economic output in the LRGV by a total of $27.1 million. Most of these economic losses would occur in the three-county region encompassing Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.
Texas is ranked third in value of U.S. agricultural production and Hidalgo county, where the SARC is located, is ranked 7th among the 254 counties in Texas. The value of agriculture in the LRGV is estimated to be $732 million with a statewide economic impact of $1.6 billion.
Supporters of the center say closure of the facility should not be an option, but with all resources expended to save the center, agriculture interests in the Valley are now pinning their hopes on Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as they mount a last-ditch effort to keep the SARC open.
“The Weslaco SRC is unique in that it's the biggest, the only USDA research center on the border, and has proven to be a first line of defense against pests and diseases that can devastate crops,” adds Prewitt. “Senator Hutchison is on the Appropriations Committee, and local ag supporters in the Valley who have been lobbying and writing letters on behalf of the center are hoping her intervention will be successful.”