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Legislation to Clear Maintenance Backlog & Improve Ag Facilities

March 2, 2018, 10:37 AM HST
* Updated March 2, 10:39 AM
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Ted Radovich at CTAHR’s Waimanalo Research Station with native sugarcane varieties. Photo courtesy of UH.

Sens. Mazie K. Hirono and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced legislation to address the significant modernization needs in schools of agriculture and the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities. Schools of agriculture across the country, including the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), face a combined $8.4 billion maintenance backlog. In addition, ARS facilities across the nation face a combined $1 billion maintenance backlog.

The Augmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act would establish competitive grants to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

“As Hawai‘i’s agricultural community continues to face new threats caused by climate change and invasive species, it’s critical that our agricultural workforce has the tools necessary to meet these challenges,” Sen. Hirono said. “For decades, these schools have had to choose between funding research and updating facilities—the AG RESEARCH Act would provide much-needed financial relief so that our nation’s best and brightest can conduct the cutting-edge research necessary to maintain our global leadership in agriculture.”

“Agricultural research has been essential to successful farming in Maryland and throughout the country, and this legislation will help us maintain our competitive edge,” Sen. Van Hollen said. “We must provide the funding to maintain and modernize these programs in our colleges and training facilities, and ensure America remains a leader in agricultural production.”

“Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources faces a $60 to $100 million price tag in deferred maintenance, which limits the college’s ability to provide Extension, Instruction and Research to Hawai‘i citizens on all islands,” Nicholas Comerford, Dean and Director of UH CTAHR said. “This bill will literally help agriculture grow in Hawai‘i.”

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“In 2015 the Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA) of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) published a report entitled ‘Infrastructure & Deferred Maintenance at Schools of Agriculture’” said Ian Maw, PhD, Vice President Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities The report estimated that over $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance existed. The BAA of APLU supports efforts, such as this measure, the AG RESEARCH Act, to address the deteriorated state of campus infrastructure in order to conduct 21st century research and education which will allow the US to maintain our competitive advantage in agriculture. This is a critical aspect of our nation’s capacity that must be attended to.”

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The AG RESEARCH Act also co-sponsored by Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“Maine’s agricultural industry plays a vital role in our state’s rural communities, helping generations of Maine farmers support their families and supply high-quality products to people throughout the state,” Sen. King said. “These farming traditions have been aided by important agricultural research from schools of agriculture both in-state and across the country – but unfortunately, too many of these schools have been facing maintenance issues that harm their ability to conduct critical 21st century research. This bill would help make sure talented researchers have the facilities they need to do their job and give our country’s hardworking farmers the information they need to thrive.”

The AG RESEARCH Act would establish a U.S. Department of Agriculture one-to-one matching competitive grant to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating, or remodeling research facilities and equipment. Priority would be given to projects that are shovel-ready or incorporate renewable energy or energy/water-efficient technologies. The bill would also authorize the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for maintenance of ARS research facilities, with priority given to the most critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

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