University of Illinois reduces off-campus crop research, looks to shutter several farms

The University of Illinois plans to reduce off-campus crop research and may shut down several agricultural centers as part of a cost-cutting move tied to flagging state support.

The budget cuts will affect the Brownstown Agronomy Research Center near Vandalia; the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in southern Illinois; the St. Charles Horticulture Research Center west of Chicago; and the Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center near DeKalb.

Neal Merchen, associate dean for research at the university's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said nine jobs will be lost, with only the Dixon Springs center likely remaining open to focus on research involving beef cattle and forestry.

Merchen said the agricultural college expects nearly $4 million less in state money this year. That 7.5 percent drop follows a decade of declining state aid to the university and comes amid the prolonged uncertainty of a fiscal year that lacks a state spending plan nearly three months into its start.

"It's almost strictly a budget-driven decision," Merchen said. "We've managed to process annual reductions in the budget. We simply can't continue to find other places to take these reductions.

University-sponsored crop research will continue on campus and at locations in northwestern Illinois and Pike County.

The field research stations connect university scientists with farmers and commodity groups across Illinois and date back to the 1930s. Merchen said the program cuts will weaken the university's outreach efforts.

"There's a loss of connectedness with stakeholders and farmers in those areas," he said.

The affected research stations will finish harvesting this year's crops before going fallow in 2016, according to Merchen.

Robert Bellm, a University of Illinois Extension agent who oversees the Brownstown farm, said he expects the research center about 75 miles east of St. Louis to shut down in April.

The research farms are "strategically located" in different parts of the state to account for varying soil types, said Bellm, whose job won't be affected by the cuts.


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