Is local grain production in jeopardy?

Pending federal legislation could cut funding for agricultural research in North Carolina. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed Bill H.R. 1, a bill that affects the proposed Continuing Resolution for the Federal Government (an agreement between the Senate, House and president regarding the funding level under which the government operates). This bill contains a $185.1 million cut to the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, or about a 22 percent cut in the program. The bill goes to the Senate next week, then to a conference committee, and from there to the president’s desk.

Dr. David Marshall is a USDA-ARS research leader at NC State University and also the lead researcher for the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials. His work will be greatly affected if the proposed cuts go through.

Jennifer Lapidus of the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project wrote this about Dr. Marshall’s work in an email to Xpress: “If it were not for Dr Marshall’s work, bakers would not be paying attention — we like our quality wheat and had relied on the high quality and performance of our Midwestern supply. But Dr Marshall’s varieties (all old school breeding—no GMOs) have worked in the bakery and in the field — the first regionally adapted modern bread wheats to be released in the Southeast.”

Dr. Marshall recently spoke to Xpress from his office in Raleigh about the proposed cuts:

Xpress: Could you give us a brief roundup of the cuts in the bill that most affect you?
Dr. David Marshall: There are a lot of cuts proposed in that bill, and of course I can’t comment on all of them. I can comment that I do support what the president’s budget had put forward, and that is to fund agriculture and specifically the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA at our FY-10 funding level. We support the administration on that. In Bill H.R.-1, there is approximately $185 million cut out of the administration’s proposed budget. The effect that would have to the Agricultural Research Service is about a 22 percent reduction across the board.

Tell me about your work with wheat research.
The program is based in Raleigh, and we are the only ARS location based in North Carolina. We have quite a few different programs here in Raleigh, but we work throughout the state of North Carolina. The programs include our wheat research program, and some of the more active parts of that program include our work with the folks in the western part of the state, in particular the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, which is now known as Carolina Ground. That is part of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Our work with them is that we’ve developed two wheat varieties that can be grown here in North Carolina that have very good bread-making characteristics and can be produced well here. The final product can be made into bread by artisan bakers.

Up until now, the only types of wheat that have been grown here are called soft wheat. They’re good quality, but their end use is limited to cookies, cakes, that type of flour. This flour can be made directly into bread, because its gluten content is higher — it’s typically bread wheat. So, we’ve been working on that project since 2002, and released some varieties about one-and-a-half, two years ago. And that project is continuing on and doing quite well.

The North Carolina Bread Flour Project came into being as a result of these varieties being developed and distributed.

Does development of North Carolina wheat go beyond better bread? It means a lot to the development of North Carolina agriculture, correct?
That’s exactly correct. The bread has to be produced by farmers. We have an entire farmer network now who can grow these wheats at a premium price and get more for their product than they could if they grew regular soft wheat. It helps with the end use and the local economy. It helps with the whole movement of local food and sustainability of agricultural systems. That’s what that program centers on.

So the potential loss of ARS money has a ripple effect across the entire food chain, so to speak?
Yes, it would. If it were to take effect, ARS in Raleigh would have to decrease by 22 percent, just like proposed in the bill. That is the equivalent of the entire wheat research program that we have here in Raleigh. 

More than just bread has come out of this research, as well. For example, I see that there are proposed malt-houses that hope to utilize North Carolina grains, and there are distilleries planning to produce liquor with local, organic grain. It would be a shame if all of that were to fold as a result of this bill.

Right. In addition to working with wheat, we work with other small grains as well. Part of the work that we’ve started is to try to develop a local barley that would be able to have a higher end use, just like you pointed out. Some of the barley that we’re also developing goes into bio-energy production. For example, barley now goes toward an ethanol plant up in Virginia.

We’re trying to expand the end use of all of these crops so that producers themselves can make more money and remain viable and remain sustainable.

This sounds like an important bill to pay attention to. What should people do if they want to save the ARS budget from proposed cuts?
If people find [the cuts] to be distasteful, they can contact their two senators from North Carolina. Right now, the house bill has gone over to the Senate, and the Senate will probably begin to debate on that bill next week. We have two senators from North Carolina that could be contacted and people can let their opinions be known to them. In addition to that, they can also let their opinions be known to House members, because after the Senate debates and passes the bill, or not, it will go back to a conference committee, and in that conference committee will be Senate and House members.

What is the time line?
When the bill is being debated, most of the Senators like to have everyone’s opinion on hand. Certainly within the next week would be a good time if folks feel obliged to do something like that.


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14 thoughts on “Is local grain production in jeopardy?

  1. bill smith

    This is what ‘fiscal responsibility’ will look like. Trillions for entirely unnecessary foreign wars and nation building, while de-funding the programs that build THIS nation.

    How much were the giveaways to companies like Cargil and Monstanto cut?

  2. artart

    So, it sounds to me like Dr. Marshall has some conflict of interest here. How can he look objectively at lowering funding for a program from which he personally benefits? And also, this program sounds like a solution in search of a problem. Certainly it is great when anything can be improved. But is improving the quality of locally grown wheat (using borrowed money since the US Gov’t is effectively bankrupt) as important as say, providing subsistance to the truly needy among us? We need to cut out all non-essential spending until we get our national finances under control…and yes, that includes military spending that goes beyond actual national defense needs. This is just another of the multitude of unnecessary programs that must no longer be funded by the federal government. There is not any funds at this time for “nice to have, but non-essential” programs.

  3. Robin Hode

    There is truth in both comments. I think the thing to remember is that while foreign wars, defense contractors, and banking industry cronies get big bucks ordinary citizens are suffering. This is exactly why we revolted against the crown and why we should now as well!

    The “bipartisan dictatorship” must end and the Republicrats recognized for who they are, one in the same!

  4. bill smith

    [i]This is just another of the multitude of unnecessary programs that must no longer be funded by the federal government. [/i]

    You find long-term food security issues frivolous? We should just buy rice from China?

    [i] There is not any funds at this time for “nice to have, but non-essential” programs.[/i]

    Really? No funds, eh? Well, better bring them troops home TODAY!

  5. louise

    I believe that our country needs to take drastic measures to cut spending and get out of debt. However, I have just learned first-hand that we need also need to be forward-thinking with our food supply. I bake bread using wheat flour which I grind myself. My wheat co-op has always ordered from out west. We were utterly shocked at the shipping prices this last order. It is exciting that we can now get wheat from our own state. Last week I tried wheat berries from Looking Back Farms in Tyner NC and they made fabulous bread! I would love to support NC farmers. Dr. Marshall has been instrumental in developing wheat that grows well here in NC. Funding scientific research which can in turn help feed the citizens of NC may not seem wise to some now but I think it is wise not to rely on folks far-removed from us for our food supply. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  6. Robin Hode

    It’s good to see someone putting to use and demonstrating the applied aspects of this research. It is amazing to me that people will not consider all the DOD waste these days and the arrogant incompetence in high places as illustrated by the Pentagon’s “losing” $2.3 trillion in 2001.

    I had much rather my forcibly taken tax monies go to fund ANY local research rather than be used to kill people that I don’t know or to protect me from myself I cannot understand why this is not more of a talking point these days.

    Is there something in the water? When will people wake up and realize we need to rebuild our own country, not another empire…..

  7. artart

    First, Bill Smith, can you please explain to me how you got from the article mentioning growing premium wheats for which they get more money to this research ensuring long term food production? Also, I do not know where the comparison of military spending to the unnecessary research the article talked about. I was simply making the point there is no money for this fluff spending anymore. I am sure most people are aware that 40 cents of every dollar being spent is borrowed money. There may be some need for food research but not this research as explained, This is a perfect example of something that can and deserves to be cut from the federal budget. Certainly defense spending can be cut also, but even with cutting defense spending, what meaningful justification is there for this spending that as far as I can comprehend is solely to increase revenue to some farmers. If one has a business, and if one wants to research ways on increasing that businesses income, it is the responsiblity of that business to pay for it, not taxpayers.

  8. bill smith

    @Art, you can’t understand how researching wheat varieties that could potentially feed North Carolina in the future relates to long term food -security issues and stands to benefits all Carolinians?


    Sorry, I don’t buy the ‘we’re broke’ crap. We spend Trillions a year on the military, and they want to cut a program like this?

  9. bill smith

    [i]what meaningful justification is there for this spending that as far as I can comprehend is solely to increase revenue to some farmers. [/i]

    @artart–I think you might need to research this specific issue a bit more. There have been several articles in the Xpress on it, and this above article contains several links to more in-depth information.

    This is not a ‘fluff program’, nor is it about merely ‘increasing revenue for a few farmers’. It’s about long-term food security.

    Wheat prices have been skyrocketing around the world in the past few years. If NC can develop a wheat variety that succeeds in the region, then it can help ensure that we have such very non-frivolous things like food in the near future.

    Wheat has not been traditionally grown in N. Carolina. This program is testing out different varieties to come up with one that can succeed in the NC climate. This is ABSOLUTELY directly linked to food security issues, because as fuel prices continue to rise, we will see the cost of shipping in wheat from far away increase the price tenfold. This puts families at risk. Feeding people is essential to living, if you are unaware. Researching varieties that can be grown and processed in NC is very much in the interest of ALL Carolinians, not just ‘ few farmers’ as you falsely characterize.

    Please, research the issue further.

    In addition, military spending is absolutely related to this topic. The reason the US is in debt is because we have been spending well beyond our means on the military for decades. A nation that prefers to spend money on empire instead of feeding it’s people will surely collapse.

  10. bill smith

    @Artart-I have written at least two long rebuttals to your assertions, but they haven’t been posted. SO, i’ll summarize: research this issue more. It is far more than you seem to think it is. Wheat prices have been fluctuating wildly the past decade, and securing local varieties is most certainly not ‘fluff’, not is it to merely enrich a few farmers.

  11. Brett Favre

    Uncle Sam doesn’t seem to want people to be self-reliant. He’s in bed with big agriculture, perhaps. The bigger the profits that go to these huge companies, the more “ahem” lobbying they can do. It’s a scary, scary thing.

  12. sharpleycladd

    I laugh and laugh about people carping about Uncle Sam and his wasteful spending. On the internet (DARPAnet, federally-developed). With their integrated-circuit computers (developed with federally-funded research). On pieces of land that are more valuable the closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway they are (a really beautiful piece of Socialist make-work, if you ask me). I do wish the concept of intellectual honesty had some currency nowadays.

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