|On a hot, Sunday afternoon, many gathered underneath the cool shade of a tent set up in front of the USDA-ARS grounds for the dedication of the new quarantine/greenhouse research facility, also known as phase two of the expansion that began in 1998.
Mayor Bret Smelser welcomed the crowd and asked Sen. Max Baucus, the keynote speaker, to help Sidney in adding value to the oil in our area.
Baucus responded to the mayor during his speech with a light-hearted joke.
Baucus thanked all the hard work of those that helped build this facility and make it a possibility. Baucus said there was nothing he worked harder on than to get all the money possible to eastern Montana for the research center. “It was a labor of love and more than worth it,” Baucus said. “Nothing is more elemental than agricultural research.”
Baucus said that no matter what era, people always needed two things – clothes on their back and food on the table – and that weeds and pests continually plague the crops. In addition to the good jobs the research center has brought to the area, Baucus was most excited about the useful research that is being conducted within the facility. With the new facility, the research will be more advanced and move along studies at a quicker pace.
The quarantine facility is used mainly for bio-control which Jim Larson, a board member on the North American Weed Management Association and Ben Larson, Richland County Extension agent’s father, explained clearly.
When a plant or bug is introduced into the country, for whatever reason, often times it can grow or reproduce at a dangerous rate because its natural predators or in its country of origin. The scientists at the USD-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Lab locate what is called a bio-agent – the plant or bug’s natural predator – in the country of origin. However, that bio-agent cannot just be brought over and introduced in the open.
“The most dangerous thing would be to release a bio-agent in a place where it cannot be controlled,” Jim Larson said.
This is the reason for the quarantine facility. Before the bio-agent is released, it undergoes exhaustive testing, both in its original country and then here in the quarantine facility. Larson says the bio-agent has any possible plant it might eat offered to it, ensuring that the bio-agent will not pose a threat to other plant life in the area.
“I think this facility is doing exactly what needs to be done,” director of the Montana Department of Agriculture Ron de Yong said. “The facility is doing exactly the right kind of research that needs to be done.”
Yong added to this sentiment saying bio-control is what needs to be done for long-term agriculture sustainability in the country.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter on his remarks of enthusiasm on the new facility, saying it will lead the way to pest control and put Sidney on the map as leading agricultural research city.
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg also sent words of praise that the research center was not just making a difference to the Northern Plains, but making a difference to the country.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic of the day’s speakers, though, were local men Dr. Jerry Bergman, director of the Eastern Agricultural Research Center, and Sen. Don Steinbeisser.
Both Bergman and Steinbeisser have been fighting for the research center, to not only stay open at times, such as in 1983 and 1995, but for the funding to expand as well.
Steinbeisser recalled that in 1983 he was informed the center was to be shut down. Within 10 days, Steinbeisser had arranged a meeting with the U.S. secretary of agriculture in Washington D.C., the first of the senator’s many trips arguing in favor of the research station. Steinbeisser said the research center stayed open but the funding was cut in half.
In 1995, Bergman says the center again faced closure since the scientists there dropped from eight to three. A year later, the USDA facility merged with the ARS pest control research unit in Bozeman and was named the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory. Now, 13 years later, the center boasts 17 scientists. “I hope that myself and the scientists prove worthy of your faith and trust,” Bergman said.
“This second phase is very important,” Steinbeisser said. “I am very proud of the whole facility.” Steinbeisser has worked for over 25 years, some years much more than others, to help bring the facility to the advanced and respected research lab that it is today.
The speakers gather behind the ribbon, and ceremoniously opened the greenhouses and quarantine facility. Baucus, in his speech, quoted Thomas Jefferson which succinctly states the importance of this facility, “The greatest service which can rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”
Sidney Herald (http://www.sidneyherald.com/) by Lindsey Bright.
Published on Tuesday, August 19, 2008
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