Jessica Fisher, a Umatilla County 4-H agent, faces having her job cut to half time.

Superintendents at Oregon State University agricultural research centers near Adams and Hermiston worry that some of their long-term programs could suffer.

These and other OSU extension programs are threatened by possible major losses in funding this fiscal year in two federal programs.

OSU leaders describe the situation as a "perfect storm" that could strip away millions of dollars in support for programs specific to Oregon agricultural and community needs.

Funding could be eliminated for nine research programs totaling at least $3 million and as much as $4 million if the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Research Grant program is cut. The programs address such high-impact Oregon agricultural areas as grass seed, potatoes and small fruit, OSU agricultural leaders say.

Phil Hamm, superintendent of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said the loss of these special grant funds would be a major blow to two programs. He cited the tri-state potato variety development program and research directed at grass seed production in the Columbia Basin.

"The tri-state potato variety program has been going for some time," Hamm said. "Funds support the development of new potato cultivars, which often times takes 15 years to release a new variety. If funding ends, then all the material in the program ultimately could be lost ... ."

Developing new potato varieties is essential to maintaining the region's competitive advantage in the world market place, he said.

"Grass seed production has been a great rotational crop for local growers and this effort has provided significant information to help increase yields and quality," he said. "Without this funding, the amount of research effort to provide new information will be severely cut."

Steve Petrie, superintendent of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center near Adams, said the proposed cuts would have a devastating effect on the ability of the scientists and extension specialists to serve the dryland growers in north central and northeast Oregon.

"A substantial portion of the research funding for CBARC comes from these sources, so losing these funds will directly impact our ability to provide growers with sound, research-based information they need to remain competitive in a global economy," Petrie said. "These funds support research that helps farmers to produce greater yields with less environmental impact and greater profitability."

Petrie sees some irony in the action Congress may take.

"These proposed cuts will adversely impact our ability to conduct research that offers the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil at the same time that President Bush is calling for an increase in our production of biofuels," he said. "And these budget cuts will directly affect our ability to provide dryland growers with sound, research-based solutions to the problems they face every day."

Most projects statewide, which all represent long-term research, have been under way since 1994, one since 1975. They are among $380 million in food and agricultural research and extension projects imperiled in the latest budget resolution under consideration by Congress.

In addition, Umatilla, Morrow and 17 other Oregon counties could lose funding for 4-H, Master Gardener training, nutritional education and other community-based learning programs because of the stalled reauthorization of the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act. It represents about $250 million in annual funding to Oregon.

Bill Broderick, Morrow County extension agent, said the potential cutbacks would impact 4-H, plus programs for both dryland and irrigated crops.

Randy Mills, Umatilla County extension chairman, confirmed Fisher's position would be cut in half without the funds.

"This represents a 25 percent reduction of our capacity to deliver 4-H youth education programs in the county, in a program that is already understaffed," he said.

Fisher has been a 4-H livestock agent since March 2001, a job that's been supported by federal funds since July 2003. The federal funding for her position ends June 30.

Patricia Dawson, Umatilla County's 4-H and youth program director, said more than 2,400 students are involved in 4-H programs.

"It would have a dramatic impact on the level of service we could provide to the young people of Umatilla County," she said. "We would have to sit back and restrategize what would be eliminated. We would have no choice but to cut programs."

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