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Research center facing another funding battle

May 18, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — The Imperial Valley Research Center, a field station here that conducts agricultural studies, is in the familiar position of having its funding axed as part of a proposed federal budget.

The federal government this year provided $300,000 for the facility, also known as the Brawley field station, but the president's 2003 fiscal budget excludes that funding, according to Congressman Bob Filner, D-50th District.

Dick Kershaw, chairman of the Imperial Valley conservation research center committee, which manages the field station, said while the funding is not part of the executive branch's budget for 2003, it could be restored by Congress.

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He said in the more than 40-year history of the research station, funding has been slated to be cut about a half dozen times, only to be reinstated by Congress.

Kershaw said the House is now discussing the possibility of funding the station, adding if the money is reinstated by the House, it still must go before the Senate.

Kershaw credited the efforts of Filner, who could represent the Imperial Valley under redistricting if he succeeds in his re-election campaign in November; and Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Republican who now represents the Imperial Valley.

"We have received excellent bipartisan support," Kershaw said.

He added the Imperial County Farm Bureau and the New River Committee also have written letters of support for the research station.

If the funding is not included in the budget, Kershaw said that could put a serious strain on the station but it might not lead to its closure. He said there is state and local private support for the facility.

The research center has been involved in key projects aimed at stimulating crop development, protecting crops and dealing with salinity and conservation issues.

Kershaw said the station has been involved in sugar beet development and took part in sugar cane trials. Sugar cane is being hailed as a new crop for the Imperial Valley that could play a crucial role in stimulating the local agricultural economy.

Kershaw added the center is developing bamboo as a crop for the Valley along with a elephant grass, a form of forage grass that has similarities to Sudan grass.

The station continues to play a role in the study of the whitefly, a pest that in the early to mid-1990s devastated several crops in the Valley.

One critical issue in the Valley now is water conservation, particularly as water talks continue regarding transferring water to San Diego and preserving the Salton Sea. Kershaw said developing conservation methods is a significant part of the work at the research station.

Filner, in a letter of support for the research center, states, "Currently the field station is preparing for a crucial role in the biosecurity and agroterrorism work that the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner's Office is seeking to deploy."

Filner adds, "The station is strategically located to provide quick response support to detection work. It is situated less than 90 miles from six border crossings, one of which is the busiest passenger crossing in the world."

Filner further states the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Food and Agriculture have personnel at the center who could help to "quickly implement control and eradication programs in coordination with local authorities."

Michael Harrison, a spokesman for Hunter, said the congressman has been a strong supporter of the center, having defended it throughout the Clinton administration.

"The facility is very critical to not only the Imperial Valley, but the research conducted at the facility benefits the nation as a whole."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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