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New farm bill increases barley disease research funding

Doyle Lentz, director of the North Dakota Barley Council. Submitted photo

GRAND FORKS — Doyle Lentz has been working to win federal funding to fight scab for nearly 30 years. Now, he and others in the battle have scored a double-headed win.

“We’re pretty happy with what’s in the farm bill for scab research,” said Lentz, a  Rolla barley farmer and the former co-chair of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.

The new U.S. farm bill authorizes up to $15 million in funding for scab research over the farm bill’s life, up from $9.2 million (revised down from the original $10 million) in the previous farm bill. The farm bill, the centerpiece of the federal government’s food and ag policies, is updated every five years.

The new farm bill also lessens the amount to be paid in “overhead” to universities at which scab research is conducted.

In the past, those universities have been charging overhead of 22 to 32 percent, leaving only 68 to 78 percent of funding for the research.

But in the new farm bill, overhead is capped at 10 percent.

“That’s pretty significant, especially when it’s in addition to the funding increase,” Lentz said, noting the 10-percent overhead cap is permanent, and will be in place as long as the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative exists.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service’s general policy is 22 percent to 32 percent overhead, so the 10-percent overhead is rare, if not unique, Lentz said.

Wheat is grown across much of the United States, which resulted in widespread geographic political support that contributed to increased funding and the more favorable overhead assessment, Lentz said.

“When different regions work together, you usually get pretty good results,” said Lentz, who’s been active in a number of commodity and agricultural organizations. He first began working to secure funding for scab research in the early 1990s, when the crop disease began affecting his own farm.

Positive results from previously funded scab research also contributed to increased funding and the lower overhead, he said.

Lentz credited Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., with playing major roles in improved funding for scab research.

The Scab Initiative, founded in 1998, consists of scientists and farmers who work together to fight the crop disease. It has both farmer and scientist co-chairs. Ruth Dill-Mackey, with the University of Minnesota, is the current research co-chair.

The Scab Initiative recently approved funding for 162 projects at 30 different universities for fiscal year 2020. No new funding applications for that period will be taken. But the additional funding will help when applications for fiscal year 2021 are evaluated, Lentz said.

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