U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced approval of funding for projects in Alabama included in the fiscal year 2008 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The bill is included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 and will soon be voted on in the House of Representatives. The Senate will consider the bill following approval by the House of Representatives.
“I believe the Agriculture Appropriations bill goes a long way in helping farmers and rural communities in Alabama and across the country,” said Shelby. “The legislation funds advanced research methods, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of eliminating devastating diseases and increasing agricultural productivity levels. The bill also takes critical steps to strengthen our food supply by bolstering the Food and Drug Administration’s food inspection capability.”
Food Safety Inspection - $56 Million
The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, but recent issues with domestic products—from spinach to peanut butter—have shown that better inspection and response capabilities are needed. In addition, though each year the amount of food imported from overseas increases greatly, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of food products that enter the United States. Foreign producers, particularly in South East Asian aquaculture, have repeatedly shown a willingness to use products banned for use in food to increase their profitability. It is the federal government’s responsibility to protect the public from these risks. The bill allocates $48.4 million, nearly $38 million above the President’s request for food safety. The increased funding will allow FDA to reverse the trend of the last four years, when the number of inspectors dropped by 230, and begin to hire new inspectors. The funding will also allow the FDA to develop a rapid response team to counter potential outbreaks and conduct much needed research on food safety.
“Food safety is a national priority that affects every man, woman and child and we must ensure the security of the food supply from all forms of contamination,” said Shelby. “Whether it is home-grown spinach, Chinese shrimp and catfish, or tainted pet food, we must have a safety net in place that reduces risks and ensures that dangerous products never make it to the dinner table or our pets’ food bowl.”
Research Center on Detection and Food Safety - $1.875 Million
In addition to funding included for food safety at the FDA, the bill includes specific allocations for food safety research at Auburn University. This program will educate a new generation of engineers and scientists to continue Auburn University’s cutting edge research to improve food safety. The results of their research will ultimately lead to a system that monitors food products from production to consumption, thereby eliminating or significantly reducing the threat of food-borne illnesses.
“This year has shown the shortcomings in our nation’s food safety capabilities,” said Shelby. “This funding will enable researchers to continue to develop the science, technology and engineering required to rapidly detect pathogens and toxins that may arise at any point in the food chain and quickly resolve the problems before they enter the market place.”
Fish Vaccine and Microbe Research - $1.062 Million
The aquaculture industry is a significant economic engine in West Alabama and the Southeast United States as a whole. Though the industry has made significant advances, fish diseases continue to have an alarming effect on the aquaculture industry and production systems causing considerable financial losses in the industry. The ability to prevent these diseases remains a vital component to ensuring a healthy national food supply and maintaining the economic development activity of the region.
“Better disease management is a top priority for Alabama’s aquaculture industry,” said Shelby. “To date, the results of the research conducted at Auburn University have led to the commercialization of two vaccines, which helped reduce the loss of catfish infected by disease. The ability to better manage disease threats is important to the overall success of fisheries both in the short-term and long-term. This funding will provide the opportunity for continued advances in disease prevention”
Catfish Genome - $878,000
This funding will continue Auburn University’s research to identify genes, pathogens and factors of traits in catfish.
“Alabama’s catfish industry continues to be a major source of economic development in the state,” said Shelby. “However, the industry faces significant threats from foreign competition. For this reason, we must ensure that our catfish population is strong and healthy, as well as capable of withstanding both endemic and emerging diseases and disorders.”
National Soil Dynamics Lab - $1.11 Million
The research conducted at the National Soil Dynamics Lab includes studies in soil hydrology, weed ecology and soil physics. This research will develop tools, practices and products for better management of soil to reduce production costs and assist in sustaining agricultural production.
“Alabama’s soil is particularly sensitive to degradation processes that significantly impact profitability,” said Shelby. “Research at the National Soil Dynamics Lab uses a system approach to better understand the threats to soil productivity and develop methods to reduce the risk of degradation.”
Improved Crop Production Practices - $1.387 Million
In an average row crop production year, Alabama producers inject $700 million in cash receipts into the Alabama economy. After the drought in 2000, producers lost $329 million and the 2007 crop year is projected to eclipse the 2000 losses. The research will be based at the ARS National Soil Dynamics Lab in Auburn and conducted in conjunction with researchers at Auburn University, Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M University. Researchers will focus on conservation tillage, intensive rotations and site-specific management to reduce the impact of drought and increase profits.
“The drought in Alabama has created a dire situation across the state with long-term ramifications affecting both the row crop producer and consumer,” said Shelby. “This year is proof again that we must continue to develop methods and technologies that reduce our crops’ susceptibility to drought.”
Peanut Research - $443,000
Years of intensive planting methods have left the soils of the lower coastal plains severely lacking in organic matter and water holding capacity, resulting in low crop yields and forcing many farmers to abandon the farming business. This project will increase the amount of organic material and carbon storage in the soil and will restore productivity to vast peanut-growing regions in Alabama and the Southeast United States.
“Auburn University and its partners continue to look for a solution to the long-term viability of the peanut industry in the tri-state area,” said Shelby. “The goal is to develop a crop rotation system that is customized to the needs of the soil and production practices of the southeastern United States.”
Alabama Wildlife Conservation Education Center - $217,000
This funding will allow the Alabama Wildlife Federation to expand its mission to educate Alabamians about the proper use, management and restoration of our environment through hands-on educational experiences. These funds will be used towards the development of an additional 1,000 feet of boardwalk and viewing decks to teach Alabama students about the outdoors and wise stewardship of our natural resources.
“Alabama Wildlife Federation will be equipped with the tools necessary to enhance its educational programs and continue the progress towards science education through a hands-on experience,” said Shelby. “The benefits of science education programs for our students are far-reaching. Studies have shown that students who are engaged in nature-based education programs improve their academic performance in math, science, social studies and language arts.”
Precision Agriculture Research in Alabama - $894,000
These projects use geospatial technologies developed by the military and aerospace industries to improve the profitability and efficiency in the forest products industry, agriculture and other natural resource-based enterprises.
“Alabama’s natural resource-based industries are facing increased pressures from foreign producers of wood fiber and agriculture products,” said Shelby. “The research in Alabama will work to develop new and innovative tools that use cutting edge geospatial technology to make forestry and agriculture production more efficient and competitive in the global market.”
The following nationwide programs will also be funded through the fiscal year 2008 Agriculture Appropriations bill:
Rural Water and Wastewater Grants - $562.565 Million
The bill includes funding for a competitive grant and loan program for communities in Alabama and across the country. Local officials with an interest in the program should contact their local Farm Service Agency office for information on the application process.
“Rural communities across Alabama are in need of financial assistance for the development of water and waste disposal systems,” Shelby said. “This program will provide the resources necessary to allow communities to ensure they have a clean and safe water supply.”
Circuit Riders - $13.75 Million
This funding will provide technical assistance for water systems located in rural areas.
“Many times small communities do not have the resources to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s water regulations,” Senator Shelby said. “This funding will provide on-site field assistance to assist these communities in compliance with regulations regarding arsenic, radon and other chemicals that may be in water.”
Rural Water Training - $3.713 Million
This funding will provide technical assistance and training to rural communities throughout Alabama to improve water and waste disposal problems. These communities would also receive assistance in preparing applications for water and waste grants made available at the State level.
“It is imperative that all Americans have access to safe and clean drinking water,” said Shelby. “This funding will allow communities across Alabama the resources necessary to ensure they have a clean and safe water supply.”