Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

February 7, 2014

Research money small but vital part of farm bill

DETROIT (AP) — A group of scientists at Michigan State University huddled around a computer screen earlier this week — not poring over scientific data but watching a webcast of the U.S. Senate.

Among them was Rufus Isaacs, an entomologist who leads a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists working to enhance bee pollination of crops. Isaacs was anxious to see if the Senate would approve the long-delayed farm bill, and with it continue the $8.6 million federal grant critical to his pollen project’s survival. The Senate passed the legislation and Congress sent it to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign the bill Friday on Isaacs’ campus in East Lansing.

“It was a great relief and celebration in my lab,” Isaacs said of the rare moment when pollen took a backseat to politics. “It’s been a long wait for this.”

The nearly $100 billion-a-year federal farm bill, passed after 2 ½ years of legislative wrangling, does two main things: Almost 80 percent of the money goes to food stamps for the needy, and around 15 percent is designated for farm subsidies and crop insurance subsidies. The pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars for agricultural research is a relative drop in the bucket, but it’s pumping money into universities across the country, particularly for advanced agricultural research.

Obama’s visit to Michigan State is a nod to the primary role a fellow Democrat, Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, played in authoring the bill and getting it passed.

But Tom Coon, director of the university’s extension program, also said the signing is appropriate in a state where agriculture is the second-largest industry, behind only manufacturing, and at a school founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.

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