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Barnes Aastad may make second Washington trip supporting soils lab

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 04/25/2013 7:03 PM

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MORRIS, Minn. — Usually a delegation from the Barnes Aastad Association makes one trip a year to Washington, D.C., but amidst sequestration and budget battles, they may be making two.

Sue Dieter talked about the delegation's March trip to Washington during the recent annual meeting for the Barnes Aastad Association. The group supports the USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Lab in Morris.

Dieter and fellow Barnes Aastad members Dan Perkins and Jim Wink along with Pat Peterson-Werre, vice president of research and development at Aveda, arrived in Washington at an interesting time, she said.

No presidential budget proposal had yet been made for fiscal year 2014, the sequestration had just gone into effect and there were just weeks left on the continuing Resolution.

Their first stop at the ag department yielded little insight into what the sequester and presidential budget would mean to the ag budget.

"Money was on everyone's mind but no one had any answers," Dieter said.

The ARS, like most government agencies, will take a 5 percent reduction across the board in the 2013 budget. It will be done without furloughs, Dieter said.

The Morris lab will lose $130,000.

Soils lab administrator Abdullah Jaradat said the lab's research is on-going, but constraints exist. The lab is "managing through the bottleneck" and continues its work.

As the delegation visited USDA, ARS and Minnesota's congressional offices, Peterson-Werre told her story of how the oilseed research at the Soils Lab helped her company and its product development.

It brought the research and its real-world application to the forefront, Dieter said.

Barnes Aastad is well-respected in Washington, Peterson-Werre said

"The group here has done an amazing job of getting the word out about the lab," she said. "You should all be proud of their efforts."

Barnes Aastad's delegation may make a second trip depending on how the president's budget may affect ag research.

The lab's research focus on climate and oilseeds is on-going, Jaradat said. Projects look at sustainable and resilient cropping systems for short growing seasons and the cold wet soils of the Upper Midwest.

Research also examines biomass cropping management. The Soils Lab continues work on oilseed crops' use in jet fuel production and promoting pollinators and other beneficial insects through bio-oil production. Part of the bio-oil production and insect research will look at the habitat it provides to pollinators.

There are many pollinators including bees, said Greg Hoch, prairie habitat ecologist for the Minnesota DNR in Madelia. And those bees are starving.

Native pollinators are being hit hard by the lack of habitat. They aren't doing particularly well in a corn and soybean environment.

Both the DNR and NRCS have developed pollinator habitat initiatives.

"When people say there is no such thing as a pollinator habitat, I disagree," Hoch said. "We talk about pheasant habitat and duck habitat, but what I want to argue is that anytime you are using native prairie grasses and forbs, you are creating a habitat that fits with a pollinator habitat."

He will monitor areas in Lac qui Parle and Stevens counties for pollinator habitat this year.

"Traditionally, the view of agencies was managing things you could shoot at...the management of game species," he said. "But the more contemporary view has us looking at the bigger picture. We are interested in the plants, feathers, furs and scales. Pollinators are a big part of that equation. We don't manage wildlife. We manage habitat. Habitat provides food and cover. Food and cover manage wildlife. We don't plant grassland sparrows, but we plant the habitat that they can use."