UA’s Department of Agriculture approved $6 million in state funds, divided between the Rice and Conservation Program

The University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture requested $6 million in one-time state-restricted reserve funds through the legislature on Friday.

The division has requested $5 million for the Northeastern Rice Research and Extension Center in Poinsett County to support more than $20 million already invested in the project by Arkansas rice growers, interim Vice President of Agriculture Ray C. Clever III said in a letter to the government. Asa Hutchinson.

The letter said it also requested $1 million for a conservation research grant to help promote the health of important waterfowl populations in Arkansas and lowerland hardwood wetlands.

“We in the department are deeply committed to using this public investment wisely,” Colfer said in his January 19 letter to the Republican governor.

Secretary of State for Finance and Administration Larry Walther has recommended that the Legislature transfer $6 million in restricted reserves to the Department of Agriculture.

The request was approved by the legislature’s performance appraisal and expenditure review subcommittee on Tuesday and the full house on Friday without any questions from state lawmakers.

“We want to thank Governor Asa Hutchinson for making the request and Senator Ron Caldwell for making the proposal that the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee adopt the request,” the Department of Agriculture said in a news release after Friday’s meeting.

“I’m glad to see that happen,” said Caldwell, a Wayne Republican.

“We’ve been working on it for months, and I’ve always said to everyone if we’re going to get to the same page, it has to pass quite easily,” he said in an interview.

After the $6 million is transferred, the state will have a balance of $87.6 million in restricted reserves, Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Treasury and Administration, said.

The approval of a one-time request for $6 million in state funds comes several months after UA’s system and a group of investors terminated a contract to sell 6,300 acres at the Pine Tree research station. With the approval of the UA System of Trustees, the Department of Agriculture entered into a contract in 2020 to sell about half of its research station near Colt in St. Francis County to Lobo Farms in the Poinsett County community of Fisher.

The selling price was $17.6 million, plus a $1 million grant for the Wetland and Waterfowl Conservation Program.

The Department of Agriculture had planned to use $5 million in pine tree proceeds to match a grant from the Producer-funded Arkansas Cedar Research and Promotion Council.

Until the termination of the contract to sell the land at the Pine Tree Research Station, UA officials defended the sale in the face of months of criticism from state lawmakers, including Caldwell, and Arkansas residents who hunt and fish on 6,300 acres. The space was managed for years by the state’s Fish and Game Commission as a wildlife demonstration area.

In 2021, the Arkansas General Assembly passed two laws banning the sale of pine trees to lupo.

Caldwell said Friday that he would prefer to move the land away from the university to a “neutral ownership status”, and then leave that land open in perpetuity to the public.

“This is still our goal,” he said.

When asked if he wanted the state to buy the land from the university, “It could be either through the Game and Fish Foundation, and someone else could come and buy it.” [or] “The state can buy it,” he said.

“We buy land for parks. Why not buy land for wildlife management areas?”

Caldwell said it’s not unusual for a state to own land managed by the Game and Fish Commission.

According to the UA Division of Agriculture, $5 million of the restricted reserve funds it receives will go to endowments from which funds will be drawn to operate the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center and will correspond to the $5 million that the Arkansas Rice Research Foundation has committed to operations. Center.

Other investments by the Arkansas Cedar Research and Promotion Council in the center include $4 million to purchase land and to improve irrigation. $1.4 million to build a store and storage facility. and $10 million to build a new research and education facility, the department said in its press release.

The board also pledged an additional $4 million to the research and education facility, and set aside $400,000 to help with staff costs. Other gifts and donations to the project include $2 million from Greenway Equipment.

The department said the other $1 million in restricted reserve funds will support Professor Doug Osborne’s work at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The work is research that will benefit waterfowl along with the Mississippi Flyway, including efforts to restore bottom hardwoods and bring back thriving waterfowl and other groups of wildlife to that area.

Information for this article was contributed by Stephen Stead of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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