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Morris Barnes-Aastad members meet with a top USDA official in D.C.

A team from Morris met with a top U.S. Department of Agriculture official March 6 during its visit to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab.

Dean Meischner and Dan Perkins were among the members of the Barnes-Aastad Association who met with Dr. Scott Hutchins, the Deputy Under Secretary, Research, Education, and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 6. The Barnes-Aastad Association is a non-profit organization of farm managers and agri-business supporting the research mission of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, according to the USDA ARS website.

"We had about 25 minutes with him which is an extraordinary amount of time for someone at that level," Perkins said.

It was time well spent as Hutchins and team members had a candid discussion about the local Soils Lab as well ARS work in general, Meischner and Perkins said.

The Morris team was able to highlight the work being done at the Soils Lab and explain the history of Barnes-Aastad and ARS in general.

The team also had a specific message about the future of the local Soils Lab

"We were able to convey to him that the (Soils Lab) has been on the closure list for the past two years in the president's (Donald Trump's) budget," Perkins said. Although the Soils Lab has been on the president's budget closure list, bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate for ARS didn't follow the presidential budget and instead provided $100 million to ARS work and $300 million for infrastructure, Perkins said.

Perkins said the team from Morris stressed how pleased it was with bipartisan support from national legislators.

The Barnes-Aastad group has been advocating for continued funding of the Morris Soils Lab and did so again in D.C. this past week.

While it was important to stress the research and success at the Morris Soils Lab, Meischner and Perkins said they were also meeting with Hutchins to advocate for all ARS work.

"When you are talking at that level, you are there for the (ARS) system," Meischner said.

The team from Barnes-Aastad has taken that wholistic approach for at least 15 years since it's been visiting with national officials in D.C., the two men said.

"We care about Morris but we've never wavered in our support for the ARS," Perkins said.

The meeting with Hutchins was possible because of the networking and support Barnes-Aastad has developed over the years, Perkins said.

Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith specifically mentioned the Morris Soils Lab when she asked Hutchins questions during his confirmation hearing in November. Smith's questions, her and her staff's interaction with Hutchins helped create the meeting.

Hutchins asked the Morris team who it had been meeting with during the week. Perkins said Hutchins was impressed with the meetings list.

Meischner and Perkins said they are hopeful that meetings with Hutchins will continue as long as he is in his role.

Overall, Meischner said, the meetings in D.C. were successful. "From my point of view, the atmosphere regarding agriculture research is quite positive. We're seeing bipartisan support. The research not only at the Morris Soils Lab, but in general is pretty well received," he said.