CORVALLIS (AP) — A western Montana agricultural research center is losing its only scientist, leaving some concerned about the future of the 106-year-old center despite assurances that Montana State University intends to re-staff it.
Mal Westcott will retire Jan. 4 from the Western Agricultural Research Center after 26 years on the staff, and it is unknown when a replacement will come on board.
The research center east of Corvallis is one of seven in the state operating under Montana State University's Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. Each center focuses on the agricultural needs for its area of the state.
The Bitterroot Valley's station focused early on helping the area's burgeoning apple industry, then widened its studies to the importation of insects to control noxious weeds, the Ravalli Republic reports (http://bit.ly/VfwBju ).
MSU College of Agriculture dean Jeffrey Jacobsen said last spring there were no plans to close the facility.
Republican State Reps. Ed Greef of Florence, and Rep. Ron Ehli of Hamilton met with Jacobsen last month, saying they were looking for clarification on whether the center would stay open.
"He made it very clear that it is their intent to re-staff it," Greef said. "It could take up to a year or even 18 months, but it is the intent to keep it open."
Westcott said he is somewhat discouraged a new person isn't already on board.
"This was entirely preventable," he said. "I made requests over the past five or six years to hire new faculty and it didn't happen."
It is unclear what kind of research will take place once the new scientist comes on board.
"They are looking for the local advisory committee to help give them some sense of a direction for the center's future," Ehli said.
That committee is recommending the new research focus on specialty crops for small acreages and studies on western Montana pasture, range and hay land forage, with added work on new noxious weeds coming over the divide.