A soil microbiologist and a pollination expert are among several new positions that the USDA-ARS unit in Sidney is in the process of hiring now that a hiring freeze appears to have melted away.
Bart Stevens, who directs the ag systems research group for the USDA-ARS laboratory in Sidney, talked about the new positions during the annual meeting of the joint advisory committee for the Williston Research Extension Center and the Eastern Agricultural Center, which was Monday, Nov. 4.
Bart told the group the lack this year of proposed drastic cuts to the USDA’s ag research centers helped the agency feel more comfortable moving ahead with its new hires. The agency had been holding positions open just in case the cuts went through, so that it could offer the 700-some existing personnel whose jobs would be eliminated other positions elsewhere in the agency.
“We have more comfort in knowing where we are going now,” Stevens said.
A soil microbiologist will help the agency take a deeper look at the impacts of cropping practices in the MonDak, and is a much-needed area of expertise that the federal research center has lacked.
“We would also love to add some weed science expertise to our group as well,” Stevens said. “And that is the next effort, to try and hire someone with weed science expertise.”
The Pest Management Unit at the USDA-ARS is hiring three additional personnel, among them a pollination ecologist. That individual will be looking at both native and introduced pollinators, as well as the plant community that supports them.
The other two positions are for a restoration ecologist, to look at best practices for dealing with disturbed or managed lands, and an insect ecologist to look at environmental and economic factors.
“It has been a long wait,” Stevens added. “The pollination ecologist and soil microbiologist position are positions that we have been trying to hire the last three years. So we have been waiting a long time for those positions.”
Meanwhile, Stevens said that a cropping system study is nearing completion, and that the agency will be choosing new projects for its five-year plan.
“We are looking for input as to what kind of questions you would like us to address with a new study at Nesson Valley,” Stevens said. “So if any of you in the group have suggestions, shout them out now or afterwards.”
At EARC, meanwhile, Chen will soon be sending out surveys that are part of the Montana State University’s five-year strategic planning process.
Darrin Boss, head of Montana State University’s Research Center Department, said now is an ideal time for producers to provide feedback on what research direction ag centers should take.
Chen listed a number of variety tests that EARC is conducting for everything from sugar beets and pulse crops to grains and oilseeds.
While federal funding has been slipping and state funding has been flat, Chen and his counterpart plant pathologist Dr. Frankie Crutcher, have been successful in attracting grant funding to help support robust research at the center.
However, grant funding does not support crucial and vital variety testing, so that is one area where Chen is working hard to find stability. The research farm also really needs a second mechanic to support its disparate locations.
Crutcher, meanwhile, has set up a fusarium nursery to screen for resistant cereal varieties. She has two, one in Sidney for barley, durum and spring wheat, and one in Huntley to screen winter wheat. These have been supported by funds from the US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, as well as by individual producers.
She’s also working on control of root rot for peas, a DNA extraction methodology for faster pulse crop disease diagnostics, a seed treatment study for sugar beet root diseases, and several others.
Williston Research Extension Center, meanwhile, is working on fundraising for its new seed conditioning plant and for a new greenhouse to help extend the research season at WREC.
The capital campaign is nearing completion, according to Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the joint advisory committee.
A team recently traveled to seed-cleaning facilities in Canada, Montana and North Dakota to view layouts and help determine what would work best for the WREC facility.
An architect for the facility has meanwhile been hired, and work on the facility is already under way.