Posted: Jun 28, 2012 10:13 PM by Breanna Roy - KPAX News
Updated: Jul 2, 2012 10:32 AM
CORVALLIS- Seven sites across the state specialize in agriculture research, working with Montana State University in Bozeman to serve the needs of agricultural clientele.
But here in Western Montana, scientists are retiring without being replaced. And Bitterroot Valley's agricultural community is worried one innovative research facility could turn into a relic of the past.
The Western Agricultural Research Center in Corvallis has been a part of Ravalli County's rich agricultural community for over a century.
"It is part of who we are. It is part of what ag culture is in this valley," Western Agricultural Research Center Superintendent Mal Westcott said. Westcott is also the last scientist working there. Two others recently retired, and their positions were never refilled. Now, Westcott is retiring himself, setting up an uncertain future for century-old facility.
"If they don't bring in scientists to work here, then in effect, what happens? The research center withers up and dies," Westcott said.
Dozens of Western Montanans came out to this year's annual ag center picnic on Thursday night, showing their support for its scientific mission and its ongoing research of specialty crops and predatory insects on invasive weeds.
But ultimately it's not the locals' decision. It's Montana State University's call whether to send more scientists to Corvallis. The locals hope they can persuade them to.
"We're hopeful that the folks at MSU will listen to the folks of western Montana who believe in this mission and lookin' at the great turnout tonight which is an expression of that support," Citizens For A Weed Free Future board member Andy Kulla said. "This could tip the scale a little bit and convince 'em that this is an important thing and it's a priority and we should not only continue the bio-control mission, but it should be centered here at Corvallis and in Western Montana where we have so many weeds."
"I think it's time for me to step aside and it's time for the university to take a hard look and say, are you gonna commit to this or are you not? And if you are then now's the time to do so," Westcott said.
The Montana State University agriculture dean was out of the office Thursday, but the school has not announced any definite plans for the Corvallis center. The next closest research center is 150 miles north in Creston. That facility is also down to just one scientist.
Click here to learn more about the center.