Members of the Auburn University community say federal funding for a new laboratory will help advance agricultural research.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., announced that Auburn would receive $43.3 million in federal funds for a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Soil Dynamics Laboratory.
“I am proud to have secured funding for the new ARS facility in Auburn,” Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, stated in a news release. “The soil lab will serve as an outlet for the USDA to complete research that will improve crop and livestock production for Alabama and the entire nation.
“I look forward to the work that will result from the partnership between Auburn and the USDA, and I am confident the project will continue to enhance our state’s thriving agriculture industry,” Shelby continued.
The funding for the new soil laboratory was provided through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019, the final fiscal year 2019 appropriations package signed into law on Feb. 15.
It will allow for the relocation and construction of the new facility, which will take the place of the existing facility at Auburn, according to Shelby.
“We’re constantly challenged with how to keep our current facilities going,” said Allen Torbert, director at the USDA-ARS Soil Dynamics Lab on Donahue Drive. “Our newest building here was built in 1962, and one of our buildings was built in 1933.”
Work in the laboratory emphasizes three research areas: conservation systems, global change and waste management.
“What we like to say is, we try to solve problems for farmers,” Torbert told the Opelika-Auburn News. “So we are out trying to find better ways, more efficient, to make more environmentally-friendly efforts to grow our food – specifically for the state of Alabama.”
Paul Patterson, dean of Auburn’s College of Agriculture, said the work done in the lab is important to consumers for multiple reasons.
“First, we need new research, and new research in agriculture in particular, to be able to produce more food and to protect our environment,” he said. “That really is a core mission of that research laboratory.
“Producing more food is important,” Patterson continued. “Agriculture’s an important part of the Alabama economy. It’s important to the U.S. economy. It’s an important part of U.S. exports. We’ve also got to do this in a way where we’re protecting the environment and making good use of the natural resources that we have.”
USDA administrators will come to the Auburn campus for a visit in April, where they will view proposed sites for the new laboratory, according to Patterson.
“And then after that, it really gets into program planning,” he said. “We’d have to reach an agreement on the site. That site would have to be approved by the board of trustees. Then the design work would proceed after that.”
The timeline of the project will depend on Auburn University officials and the ARS officials in Washington, Torbert said.
But he added that the upgraded space will allow researchers to do their work more efficiently, even in seemingly simple ways, like maintaining the internet system in the facility.
“We’re all very excited about the possibilities,” Torbert said. “We’re trying to really put into our thinking – each of the scientists that are located here – what would the new facility need to really improve our jobs?
“It’s kind of exciting, to think that you have an opportunity to not just fit your work in a building that was built in the ‘60s, but to really have a facility that was designed to meet your needs.”