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Construction Begins on Agricultural Research Service Building at NMSU

LAS CRUCES - A new Agricultural Research Service building on the New Mexico State University campus will lay a foundation for better understanding of arid lands and increased scientific collaboration, speakers at a ground-breaking ceremony said Friday.

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"We are breaking ground for the future of arid lands agriculture" U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen told the crowd in NMSU's livestock judging pavilion."In order to properly manage the 30 percent of the world's lands that are arid, we must have the science to do so."

The 29,000-square-foot building will provide needed laboratory and office space for scientists with the Jornada Experimental Range, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ARS. The building will contain modern equipment to study problems related to arid lands. It will house six laboratories, a small conference area and offices for 45 people.

Skeen, chair of the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee, championed funding for the $7.4 million project, along with U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and other members of New Mexico's congressional delegation. Completion is expected next summer.

John C. Owens, NMSU executive vice president, predicted the new facility would yield a "bumper crop of benefits for New Mexico and the nation." click for a high resolution image

G. Jay Gogue, NMSU president, announced Friday that NMSU will receive a $4.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation in a new round of funding for the Long-term Ecological Research project. In addition to Jornada scientists, the building will be home to NMSU scientists involved with the LTER, which focuses on basic ecological questions. Scientists with the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service will also work in the new building.

The new facility will place these scientists in closer proximity to other colleagues in adjacent campus buildings, encouraging more collaboration, Gogue said, calling the ground breaking "a great day in the life of NMSU."

Since 1912, Jornada scientists have studied management and remediation or repair of desert rangelands. Researchers study basic ecology, monitor the desert's health, develop repair techniques and find new ways to manage livestock grazing in the Southwest. They conduct field work in a vast "lab without walls" north of Las Cruces, but lack modern facilities for processing their samples, Owens said.

C.A. Onstad, South Plains Area ARS director, noted that the 193,000-acre Jornada is the agency's largest single landholding among 100 sites. The Jornada is roughly the size of New York's Manhattan Island, but has only one-millionth of its population, Onstad said.

The ARS building, along with NMSU's recently completed arid lands building one block north, will expand educational opportunities and provide new research for dissemination to the public through NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, said I. Miley Gonzalez, USDA under secretary. He called the building "fundamental to training the next generation."

Felicia Thal, a northern New Mexico rancher representing New Mexico Cattle Growers and advisory groups for the Jornada and USDA, said arid lands research is vital for New Mexico. "I want to apply dynamically the latest ideas I can to our environment," she said