Members will get close look at projects

Members will get close look at projects

Giant grasses that, when burned, help fuel power plants. Vitamin-rich grain, created during ethanol production, that nourishes livestock. Animal identification systems that one day could help track the spread of animal diseases.

Through the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (or C-FAR), state money has funded such research in recent years.

Council members, from farmers to food technologists, spend most of their time identifying research priorities and reviewing grant proposals. But on Wednesday, they'll meet researchers and get a glimpse of projects funded by C-FAR through state appropriations.

They could have met in a conference room in Springfield, but they decided it would be better to visit researchers in their own environments – laboratories, said C-FAR Executive Administrator Kraig Wagenecht.

"It's a good opportunity to get a broad overview of what C-FAR offers," said George Czapar, University of Illinois Extension Educator. It's a chance for members to ask questions and for researchers to get feedback, he said.

"Hopefully people will ask lots of questions," Czapar added.

Czapar is involved with a comprehensive C-FAR project called a Strategic Research Initiative. At the end of the three-year project, researchers hope to have compiled nutrient (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) standards for Illinois rivers and streams.

The initiative involves researchers from the University of Illinois, Illinois Natural History Survey and Illinois State Water Survey as well as Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Illinois State University in Normal. They're also collaborating with agencies such as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

They are coming into their third year of research and are a little over halfway done, Czapar said.

Other presentations on Wednesday include talks on biomass energy crops, animal identification, research into distillers dried grains, consumer attitudes toward issues of food safety and more. Visitors also will tour the UI's new beef and sheep facility and make other stops throughout South Farms.

The day of research presentations comes at a time when council members are in the beginning stages of preparing for next year's budget talks.

The state's budget picture has not been so rosy in recent years, and the C-FAR appropriation has declined. For the current fiscal year, which continues through June 30, 2006, C-FAR was allocated $3.5 million, down from $15 million in fiscal year 2002.

And in 2004, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed to cut funding for the council altogether due to the state's budget deficit.

Illinois still ranks behind other land grant universities in the Midwest, such as in Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa, for state funding of agricultural and food research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service's (USDA/CREES) Inventory of Agriculture Research based on fiscal year 2004 expenditures.

But the state's economy is looking up, Wagenecht said.

"Our economy is better than it has been in many years ... and we really are at an absolute minimum to have a vibrant program. We're looking forward to having meaningful discussions on how we can rebuild the appropriation," Wagenecht said.

Budget discussions for fiscal year 2007 are expected to begin after the governor's budget address in mid-Feburary.

"We will be seeking an increase (in funding), but it's premature to talk about any numbers," Wagenecht said.

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