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September 13, 2023

King Introduces Legislation to Address Maintenance Backlog at University of Maine, Federal Agricultural Research Facilities

UMaine welcomes Senator’s co-sponsorship of the AG RESEARCH Act, which would support research and training

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) has introduced legislation to address the maintenance backlog at agricultural research facilities in Maine and across the country. The AuGmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act would address deferred maintenance at U.S. schools of agriculture, including agricultural research facilities at the University of Maine and USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities.  

“Agricultural research has been essential to the success of Maine’s hardworking farmers for generations and their ability to continue producing high-quality and delicious products,” said Senator King. “Unfortunately, too many agricultural sciences schools have been facing deferred maintenance issues that impede their ability to conduct critical research and postpones repairs to a later – and more expensive – date. As technology advances and opens new agricultural opportunities, it’s important our research centers stay up-to-date with the latest tools available. This bill will ensure that land-grant universities, like the University of Maine, can further invest in its research facilities and create added stability to help these institutions move forward with their important work.”

“The growth of Maine’s agriculture and dependent rural communities relies on cutting-edge research and workforce development undertaken by our R1 land grant university with industry and other partners. Even with the talent and ingenuity of our incredible faculty, staff and students, it is increasingly challenging for them to conduct 21st century research in facilities constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, who also serves as the University of Maine System’s Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation. “We appreciate how Senator King and his colleagues in Congress continue to champion this critically important federal investment that would provide UMaine with the opportunity to modernize our statewide research farms and greenhouses. This will expand and enhance food security, hands-on preparation of a highly skilled agriculture workforce and create a more resilient Maine economy in the face of a changing climate and markets.”

An initial 2015 study reported that there was an estimated total of $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance at U.S. schools of agriculture. A follow-up 2021 report confirmed the effects of the insufficient funding to address maintenance backlogs at these facilities, reporting that 69% of these agricultural school buildings were at the end of their useful lives and that the cost of addressing deferred maintenance grew to $11.5 billion.

The AG RESEARCH Act would provide competitive grants to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating, or remodeling research facilities and equipment. The USDA Secretary is directed to distribute the grants equitably based on geography, diversity, and size of institutions. The bill would also allow the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for continued maintenance of ARS research facilities, with priority given to the most critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

In addition to Senator King, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Senator King has been a longstanding advocate for Maine’s agriculture economy. He secured $2,997,000 in FY23 congressionally-directed spending to strengthen research and innovation in support of Maine's wild blueberry industry through the modernization of UMaine's Blueberry Hill research farm in Jonesboro. He previously introduced legislation to support farmers affected by PFAS. He also introduced the Farmland Access Act that would update the existing, but underutilized, federal Buy-Protect-Sell program that allows land trusts and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to purchase and preserve farmland before its eventual transfer to another farmer who can maintain the land. Additionally, Senator King secured funding for agricultural research, of products like the Caribou Russet, in the FY2022 budget.

The full text of the bill is available here.


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