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Plan to close Brooksville station dismays ranchers

BROOKSVILLE — Dana Hurst doesn't own a mega-acre ranch. Rather, his plot of land on Barclay Avenue where he raises cows is a mere 10 acres in size.

Getting the most from the local hay he buys means the difference between turning a profit and drowning his operation in red ink.

When Hurst heard Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was considering shutting down its Subtropical Agricultural Research Station in Brooksville as part of a proposed $84-million federal budget cut, he was stunned.

"The kind of research they do there is invaluable to every rancher in Florida," Hurst said. "The cattle industry wouldn't be the same without it."

The tiny USDA research facility on Chinsegut Hill Road north of Brooksville is the only one in Florida dedicated to beef cattle production. However, the Bush administration's proposed budget for 2009 suggests elimination of the facility, plus 10 other research centers across the country.

Bill Sellers, a local rancher and a member of the Florida Cattleman's Association, said losing such a valuable asset would hurt Florida's cattle industry.

In addition to providing research on livestock genetics, the center is one of the few USDA facilities that researches Southern pasture grasses, which feed developing cattle.

"Over the years they've found ways to increase the protein in grass," Sellers said. "That alone has done a lot to increase production and make it cheaper for ranchers to feed their cattle."

The center, which has been in operation in Brooksville for 75 years, has a staff of nine researchers, including biologists, geneticists, lab technicians and three operations staff members. The status of their jobs under the proposed cuts remained unclear Thursday.

However, according to Hernando Cooperative Extension agent Stacy Strickland, the facility provides much more than just help for cattle ranchers.

"These people are experts in several different fields of agriculture," Strickland. "Having them here in our own back yard is invaluable."

Apparently, some members of Congress think the same thing. U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has joined seven other members of Congress in a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, hoping to persuade the committee to keep the agricultural research facilities open.

In addition, Sellers said that a delegation from the Florida Cattlemen's Association has vowed to put pressure on the USDA to save the facility.

"They couldn't duplicate the research they do there anyplace else," Sellers said. "It's unique to how we raise cattle in Florida."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Plan to close Brooksville station dismays ranchers 04/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 8:17pm]
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