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Bugs, flies and fungus cheer upcoming extension center cuts

Feb. 26, 2011

If you haven't been worried about saving your cherries or blueberries from the spotted-wing drosophila - news flash - there is a much more destructive creature on the horizon. The brown marmorated stink bug makes that fly look like an afterthought.

The stink bug is a threat to just about everything edible that grows - and its ugly destructive habits are on the doorstep of Hood River County.

"It is the tank of the insect world and it attacks apples and pears," said Dr. Peter Shearer, professor of entomology at the OSU MCAREC experiment station in Hood River.

Will these pests enjoy a wide-open welcome or will Hood River scientists continue the fight against all such marauding invaders? The answer is going to be left up to concerned local citizens and businesses to answer.

"Sometimes we are the ones trying to stave off disaster," said Brian Tuck, OSU Extension service staff chair, in reference to the many services provided by their faculty and the related experiment station researchers on behalf of gardeners and commercial growers alike.

With a predicted 25 percent reduction of state funding for the local experiment station, and a potential drop in the county's ability to maintain its ongoing funding commitment to the extension service, local fruits, as well as residents, may feel a bite - literally.

With last year's commodity crops bringing $87.5 million dollars in sales directly into the county (not counting employment and support service benefits), healthy local agriculture translates directly into a healthy general economy.

It's easy to see then, that a threat to local fruit can be a threat to local employment and wages, and every business that depends upon employed residents.

According to Tuck, the State of Oregon recently notified all of the experiment stations around the state of a 25 percent reduction in funding for the 2011-12 funding year, beginning July 1.

"We are being mandated to obtain one quarter of our budget from non-state sources," Tuck said. For next year's budget, that equates to close to $200,000.

In conjunction with this significant reduction, the OSU county extension office is in negotiation with Hood River County on proposed reductions of the county's annual contribution of $120,000 in base funding support.

"We wish to be able to continue to provide high quality research and extension programs to the residents of Hood River County but we have a dilemma - if the county isn't able to provide support," said Tuck, "we won't be able to keep an extension office here."

To address potential impacts on the county's economy resulting from cuts to both OSU extension and the experiment station, David Meriwether, county administrator, is in the process of creating an exploratory committee to assess the issues and seek solutions.

Tuck noted that the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers and Oregon Cherry Growers associations already provide significant funding support to help maintain existing services, negotiated each year depending on specific research needs.

"We have had incredible support from the community already," Tuck said, "and we also bring in significant grant dollars to the community. We need a solution that is supported by the whole community."

The combined extension and research programs support: research and grower outreach on pest control, production increases and quality improvement, along with coordinating 4-H programs; Master Gardener programs, the SNAP food stamp program and youth soccer and robotics programs.

According to Shearer, mid-Columbia pear, apple and cherry crops (those most vulnerable to the two current pest threats) brought in close to $200 million in market value in 2009 to the region. Service level reduction or loss to the OSU programs will certainly pose significant economic challenges.

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