Congress has approved a USDA Agricultural Research Service proposal to make changes at the Vegetable and Forage Crops Research unit based in Prosser, Wash.
The Prosser unit will be changed from a stand-alone unit to a work site administered by ARS laboratories in Pullman and Wapato, Wash. Funds will be reprogrammed from Prosser to Pullman and Wapato, said Sandy Miller Hays, director of communications for the research service, based in Beltsville, Md.
Six current employees at Prosser will be reassigned to other ARS locations around the United States. Fifteen will remain at Prosser, Hays said.
Several projects are underway at the ARS field site in Paterson, Wash., including one run by two of the reassigned employees. Hays said that project will come to an end, but other projects will continue.
Hays estimated staff would receive their letters of reassignment by the end of this week. They would likely have to report to their new location sometime in the fall, she said.
Upon announcement of the proposed changes, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack outlining the understanding of the proposed changes. The letter states that administration of Prosser’s potato-related projects would shift to Wapato, and legume, pulse and alfalfa research would shift to Pullman.
According to Hastings’ letter, the changes and the programming of funds would mean the ARS can hire a new potato virologist at Prosser, which Hastings called “a longtime priority for the potato industry,” create a new pulse crop research program at Prosser, also a priority, and invest additional dollars in alfalfa research currently at the Prosser site.
A research project about improving soil, environmental quality and production for potato growers using bio-fertilizers from dairy and poultry manure and municipal wastewater would be terminated at Prosser and transferred to Wapato, according to the letter.
Hastings urged the research service to continue to work with growers and commodity groups to develop research priorities.
“While we understand that the change in classification of the Prosser facility is strictly a budgeting or administrative change, this change must in no way lessen the individual identity or importance of the facility within the ARS network as the USDA makes future funding decisions,” the letter states. “It is essential that the research conducted at Prosser and Paterson is continued on site — in the heart of where these crops are grown — and that the facility's new classification is not a step toward future reductions in staff, research or resources.”
Other legislators who signed Hastings’ letter included Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler, both R-Wash., Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Greg Walden, R-Ore.