LSU AgCenter facing steep cuts from Louisiana’s budget woes

If you spend any time in northeast Louisiana, you realize the soils of the Macon Ridge, an area that runs north and south to the west of the Mississippi River, are different from the alluvial soils of the Delta.

Recognizing that difference, farmers asked the Louisiana Legislature to create a research station on 815 acres near Winnsboro more than 60 years ago. It’s one of 17 research stations, operated by the LSU AgCenter, that were established to provide research on specific crops or regions.

At least five of those stations, a significant number of Parish Extension agents and half-a-dozen academic departments at the main Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge could be in jeopardy due to cuts aimed at addressing a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state of Louisiana’s operating budget.

“If you’ve read the papers lately, you know there are some proposed cuts to higher education that could exceed 80 percent,” says Rogers Leonard, associate vice chancellor for research at the LSU AgCenter.

Dr. Leonard, speaking at the 2015 Wheat and Oats Field Day at the Macon Ridge Station, didn't mince words. “There’s no way that can happen. If it did, we probably wouldn’t have five of our research stations next year. You wouldn’t have a county agent in every office, and we would probably lose about a half-dozen of our academic departments.”

LSU AgCenter officials, he said, don’t believe the cuts will be that draconian when it’s all said and done. “But we do suspect there will be some significant cuts that will come to higher education this year.”

Legislative steps

The budget outlook was one of several topics addressed by Leonard in comments to farmers, university personnel and agribusiness representatives at the start of the Wheat and Oats Field Day on April 22.

Since then, the Louisiana Legislature has begun taking steps to address the shortfall. A House committee has passed several tax increase proposals that were scheduled to be voted on by the full House on May 7.

The increases are supported by the state’s public hospitals and colleges and universities and opposed by business groups and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal has drawn national attention for budget proposals that cut spending for universities and colleges while shielding tax breaks of $415,000 per episode for the TV series “Duck Dynasty.”

Any tax increases passed by the House will go to the Louisiana Senate, which is considering a tax bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee. The latter includes a repeal of Louisiana’s inventory tax, a measure that would reduce revenues to local governments.

The House and Senate have until June 11 to pass a balanced budget and send it to Gov. Jindal for his signature. The governor has said he would veto a budget bill that contains a tax increase.

As in the past, Dr. Leonard said LSU AgCenter officials will probably ask stakeholders to weigh in on the budget debate.

Calling on stakeholders

“If you like having a county agent and you like a research station, we may need your help,” he said. “So we may be calling on you to help us where you can along those lines.”

Before becoming associate vice chancellor for research, Dr. Leonard helped develop many of the IPM strategies used to control damaging insect pests in cotton and other row crops in Louisiana and the other Mid-South states. Much of his research was conducted at the Macon Ridge Research Station.

For more information on Dr. Leonard and the LSU AgCenter, visit http://www.lsuagcenter.com/news_archive/2012/january/headline_news/B-Rogers-Leonard-receives-entomology-excellence-award.htm

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