Washington State University's agricultural research center has entered a new reality: austerity.

"To run the research enterprise we've had in the past, we cannot wait for (legislators) to fund it; they will not fund it at the level we want them to fund it at," said Dan Bernardo, dean of Washington State University's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.

It will require the agriculture sector and the university to put together a faculty team that can compete nationally and internationally for funding, he said.

Bernardo provided an update on the university's budget picture Nov. 16 during the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention at an open forum for university researchers.

He said Gov. Chris Gregoire's special budget-cutting session represents a "looming threat" for the university's funding.

"It's downright scary to talk with some of the people in Olympia, some of the ideas they're concocting," Bernardo said.

Bernardo predicts funding for the university's Agricultural Research Center will be targeted. The concern is that legislators may think annual research funding from commodity commissions can replace state funds.

The federal farm bill is also a concern. Bernardo said the university is competitive for federal research grants, nearly doubling its total research grant portfolio in the last few years. The Agricultural Research Center raised more than $50 million last year, Bernardo said.

Grants accounted for about 41 percent of the center's budget then, and about 57 percent last year. State funds provided 45 percent five years ago, and now about 30 percent.

"We very much fear the federal budget and the potential loss of of the opportunity to compete," he said.

The university has changed how it does business, with increased cost shares for technical support. The university has imposed a land service fee at all research facilities. It's caused some concern, Bernardo said, noting he's heard from a state legislator.

The university has lost 52 percent of its state funding in the last four years.

"There is a fallacy in Olympia that we just replaced it all with tuition," Bernardo said, noting only half of the lost revenue was replaced with tuition increases.

In the current biennium, WSU reduced its budget by $20 million, with agricultural programs taking "a very very very very very small hit" as a result, moving reductions to lower-priority programs, Bernardo said. Gregoire's special session budget recommendations call for an additional 10 to 20 percent reduction to higher education.

"The good part about having a 20 percent reduction is that it's really only like a 10 percent reduction, because they already took half," Bernardo said wryly. "You have to approach this with humor."

The federal side is equally "dismal," Bernardo said, with the discontinuation of federal earmarks for special research grants reducing research funding by $3.6 million. It particularly impacted the ag sector, Bernardo said, resulting in the elimination of funding for the PM10 dust project, Solutions to Environmental and Economic Problems and barley genomics projects.

In a brighter spot, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate recently agreed on a "minibus," a smaller package of budgets including agriculture, which maintained federal funding at a similar level as last year, Bernardo said.

-- Matthew Weaver

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