CSU plan would combine Western Slope research centers

Dr. Calvin Pearson, a research agronomist with the Colorado State University’s research facility east of Fruita, talks about the sunflower leaves that he’s freeze drying on the table in the facility’s laboratory.

Dr. Calvin Pearson examines one of several varieties of oats that he’s growing to see which kind thrives best in the Grand Valley’s farmland on a portion of the 80-acre Colorado State University’s research facility on L Road east of Fruita.

Colorado State University is looking to combine its three Western Colorado Research Center locations into one.

State budget cuts have taken a big bite into higher education, but CSU officials say state budget cuts have nothing to do with the proposal.

The school is considering closing the 80-acre Fruita research facility and the 80-acre Rogers Mesa experimental station in Hotchkiss. The proposal deals only with the research facilities and does not affect CSU’s cooperative extension.

In 1998, the three research centers were combined in name alone, as the Western Colorado Research Center, but school officials are looking at combining the three onto 80 acres at its existing Orchard Mesa facility. And CSU may expand that location.

“A final plan has not been developed yet,” said Lee Sommers, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at CSU. “We are looking at options we can use to enhance our programs on the West Slope.”

The proposal was presented to the Orchard Mesa Research Center Advisory Committee last week. Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca is a member of the committee. He said both the CSU Research and the CSU Extension Services on the West Slope “are vital to our agricultural economy.”

He left the meeting with the impression the proposed consolidation was being considered in response to the state’s budget crisis. He also left with the impression the consolidation of the research facilities was a good idea.

But there are differences in soil, elevation, rainfall and other factors that make each facility unique. Each site is capable of producing science applicable to unique parts of the 14 counties served by the research facilities that would not be as applicable to the Orchard Mesa site.

“It continues to be important to conduct research on traditional, alternative and novel agricultural production systems and operations,” according to a paper written by CSU research scientists Calvin Pearson and Harold Larson. “Local, adaptive agricultural research must be ongoing to assist agricultural producers in the western Colorado region to be competitive in the marketplace and to develop sustainable and environmentally enhancing technology.”

Sommers insisted the proposal was not related to state budget cuts, even though CSU has to cut its budget.

“We are seeing a 5 percent reduction in funding for the next few years, and we have left positions vacant and we are reducing some of our operations cost,” he said.

Whatever savings are realized, if the proposal is presented to and approved by CSU’s Board of Governors, would be rolled back into research for the benefit of Western Slope agriculture, he said.

“I started this process of dialoguing with our staff 2 1/2 years ago, before the budget was even a problem,” Sommers said.

Ron Godin, research scientist, and extension soil specialist, at the Rogers Mesa facility, was under the impression the plan had been approved, and he was awaiting word on when to start packing.

He said he was looking forward to consolidating facilities because it would be beneficial for the science, the scientists and the agricultural professionals that rely on CSU’s agricultural expertise.

“Having all the scientists in one place will create a synergy that will really help ... because then we can collaborate on projects,” Godin said.

Sommers said a large part of the plan is to not duplicate services and to improve the level of collaboration between scientists and all of CSU’s agricultural partners, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Division of Wildlife and others.


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