Show of financial support from local operations may help save station
By MITCH LIES
MADRAS, Ore. -- The Central Oregon Agricultural Research Center is asking growers for financial support based on which crops, and how much, they grow.
In a letter to growers dated Dec. 15, the station asked for the following donations:
* $10 an acre for carrot seed, parsley and onion seed.
* $3 an acre for grass seed.
* $1 an acre for noncontracted irrigated crops.
The idea of seeking contributions based on a per-acre formula is unique among the state's 11 experiment stations, all of which are seeking local financial support.
Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences administrators said local support is one barometer they will use to evaluate whether to keep stations open in the face of ongoing budget cuts.
Marvin Butler, director of the Madras station, said the station's advisory council settled on the formula after two years of discussions.
Butler said he needs $125,000 a year from local growers, seed companies, agricultural chemical companies, equipment dealers and other industry partners to reach the college's 25 percent local-funding target.
Without the support, he believes the station is vulnerable.
"If we don't have the strong support of the growers, then we are extremely vulnerable, because it is a relatively small growing area," he said. "We have high-value crops, so it is important but relatively small."
Butler believes College of Agricultural Sciences administrators will give stations some leeway in meeting the 25 percent target, but want to see an indication of support.
"If we have strong industry support. If they are willing to send the right signals to the College of Ag that they see value in the station, then the College of Ag I think will continue to be supportive," Butler said.
The station serves agriculture in Jefferson, Deschutes and Crook counties.
Given the alternative, Butler believes using local support as a decision-making barometer is appropriate.
"Instead of (College of Agricultural Sciences) Dean Sonny Ramaswamy just going, 'Well we need to close three stations or five, and it is going to be those and those and those.' He's going, 'OK, you guys, so do you see value or not?'
"And if our growers go, 'Yes, we do,' and we step up to the plate, then that sends the right message to the College of Ag that there is local value," Butler said.
"In my mind, the dean has given the local industry the power in that decision-making process," he said.
Mark Hagman, a local grower who serves on the advisory council, said he relies on the station for localized research that helps improve his crop management.
"You can read all sorts of stuff on the Internet that may be applicable in a 1,200-foot elevation that doesn't work at 2,400 feet (the elevation in Madras)," Hagman said.
Hagman said the station is unable to withstand more budget cuts.
"With the percentage of cuts they've already absorbed, if you take another 25 percent, it's going to be tough to have enough feet on the ground and enough brains in the building to be effective," Hagman said.
The station currently has three scientists, support staff and research assistants. It once had five scientists.