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Many of your readers have heard that in response to budget restrictions proposed by the Governor, the University of Nebraska is offering the elimination of the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory (HAL) outside of Concord by the end of 2018 as a partial solution. They may have also read a recent article in the Norfolk Daily News from Vice-Chancellor Boehm outlining the reasons they have chosen HAL. I retired in January after almost 34 years as the soil scientist at HAL.

My name is on many NebGuides related to nutrient management, much of the information used is the result of research in northeast Nebraska. If I was not able to use HAL as a base, I would not have been able to do research in the counties that serve this newspaper.

The need for locally conducted research holds true for the other disciplines represented at HAL: weed science, entomology, and irrigation science. Before the powers in Lincoln decided not to refill positions at HAL, we have made contributions to the beef and swine industry.

Why is this happening? The budget cuts being imposed by the legislature are just an excuse to eliminate HAL. The administrative leadership in IANR (Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources) has not supported HAL for many years. Over the past decades, HAL has lost positions in Youth, Nutrition, Biosystems Engineering, Swine Management, Dairy Science, Beef Science, and Agricultural Economics. These losses are mainly due to a combination of how departments compete for positions and administrative neglect.

A research center can’t initiate a position unless the relevant Lincoln department supports the position. Animal Science abandoned HAL long ago in spite of the fact that Professors Mike Brumm and Terry Mader made tremendous contributions to Nebraska’s animal industry.

The administration has used our ambitions and planning against us. In the article in the Norfolk paper, the Vice-Chancellor gave several reasons for our elimination; one was that we needed more land and our plans for a better research facility were too costly.

He asserted this immediately after claiming we had no vision. We have a vision for our work, and we work hard. It is our plans and work ethic that resulted in the need for more land and better facilities.

The Norfolk paper reported that the Vice-Chancellor said about a strategic vision, “no one had worked to identify one.” A better, more accurate statement would be, ‘none of the strategic visions proposed were accepted by the administration.’ We have worked over the years to identify a unifying vision. The problem has been that administration has always rejected our proposals and never gave us suggestions for visions they would approve. I am happy to discuss the ‘visions’ we have proposed with anyone interested.

The northeast district has a different growing season, soils, rain patterns, and topography than the rest of the state. Our district makes major contributions to the state’s economy, and the state should treat it equitably. Our district has 28 percent of the land, 32 percent of the farms, 35 percent of the market value of ag production, 41 percent of the livestock sales, 29 percent of the corn acreage, 25 percent of the soybean acreage, and 53 percent of the hog inventory (2012 Ag statistics).

We have 320 acres that we own, and we rent 160 acres. Compare this land resource to the 9,500 acres near Mead, the 12,800 acre ranch near Gudmundsen, the 6,000 acres at the Barta Brothers ranch, the Panhandle Research and Extension Center has 4,100 acres, and West Central Research and Extension Center (North Platte) has 2,000 acres.

The university abandoned their presence in Norfolk last year, and now they propose closing HAL and selling the land at HAL, whose proceeds will go to Yale University. Considering the meager savings from closing HAL compared to the benefits I submit that your readers and northeast Nebraska are not well served by these developments.

If you care about northeast Nebraska as I do, then let your State Senator, the Governor, our Regent, and the university administration know how you feel.

Charles Shapiro of Wayne is the professor emeritus of Haskell Agricultural Laboratory, part of the University of Nebraska. He is a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy.


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