After the 2018 federal spending bill secured more than $3 billion in funding for agricultural research, Rep. Greg Walden got to see some of that work firsthand Wednesday at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Walden got a tour of the center as part of a trip through Umatilla County. Director Phil Hamm, as enthusiastic as ever in his promotion of the experiment station, showed off insect-raising rooms, soil testing labs, greenhouses, bee research and more.

“In your district you have the best experiment station anywhere,” Hamm told the congressman.

After making sure everyone — even University of Oregon Ducks fans like Walden and state senator Bill Hansell — had on their very own Oregon State University Beavers baseball cap, Hamm showed Walden about $1 million in improvements made to HAREC since Walden’s last trip out to the station a couple of years earlier. Cam Preus, president of Blue Mountain Community College, also touted the multi-million dollar precision irrigated agriculture facility the college built on the HAREC campus last year to give students hands-on training with things like maintaining the station’s 15 center pivots.

“We’ve got to get those students hands on, that’s how they learn,” she said.

A few improvements made to the station in recent years includes the remodel of some research labs, solar panels that save the station about $30,000 per year on their electrical bill, two new crop circles and the Don Horneck Memorial Building, which includes an agronomy lab and insect-rearing rooms. Currently in the works is also an expansion of the plant pathology lab and new conference room.

Hamm said the improvements are thanks to generous support from farmers and other stakeholders in the area, who are unmatched around the state in their support for the extension center.

“No one, absolutely no one, can come close to the support we get from our stakeholders,” Hamm said.

He said later in the year HAREC plans to hold a “thank you day” during which they will add new names to the list of supporters on a large stone outside the front office. Hamm said Walden’s name will be on that list for his work to remove a federal reversionary clause that had previously stipulated that the land where HAREC sits would revert to the federal government if any part of it were ever used for something other than agricultural research.

Preus, during her part of the tour, told Walden that without the change to the reversionary clause the partnership with BMCC and HAREC to build the precision ag building on the HAREC campus would not have been possible. She said not only are full-time students able to get a good hands-on education on precision irrigation, but BMCC also uses the building to hold “compressed” workshops where people from the agricultural industry can get training on changes to the industry over two full days instead of a series of hour-long classes in a semester.

“The industry folks really like that,” she said.

Hamm added that HAREC and BMCC hope someday people will come from all over the world, not just the Pacific Northwest, to learn about precision irrigated agriculture in an arid climate. Carl Melle, dean of career technical education for the college, said they were also planning to begin a series of Wednesday morning workshops for high school students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Walden said he learned a lot on the tour — from the benefits of the reversionary clause bill he sponsored to the reason why Hermiston’s watermelons are so sweet — and asked that Hamm and Preus put together some information for him to bring back to his colleagues in Congress to show the good the reversionary clause bill had done.

He said he was pleased that the federal omnibus spending bill had increased the amount of funding for agricultural research from the previous year.

“It’s so important, the work you do, and the work they do across the state,” he said.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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