Bipartisan effort saves funding for Peoria ag research center

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Now known as the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR), through the years the lab has been expanded and renovated. The center focuses today is on bioenergy, new uses for renewable resources, and safe, healthy foods. NCAUR was designated as an International Historic Chemical Landmark in 2001. (Photo courtesy of USDA ARS) 

More than 200 scientists, chemists and employees at Peoria’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, NCAUR, may now heave a sigh of relief; the historic lab will remain open.

On July 12, the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved its FY 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

NCAUR was among 17 USDA sights slated for closure in President Donald Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget blueprint, released May 23. The House Appropriations committee refused to concur with Trump’s plan, and all of the targeted sites were included in the bill.

Trump’s aim; cut 20 percent from agriculture spending, in part, by shuttering the USDA sites. a measure met with fierce opposition. NCAUR was listed on the “Proposed Laboratory Closures” in the budget’s “Agricultural Research Service” section, and is tagged for “entire location closure.”

If left unopposed, the closings would have taken affect Oct. 1 for the 2018 budget year.

Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos thanked the House Appropriation Committee’s for including full funding for the lab in its agriculture appropriations markup.

“While the fight is far from over, I’ll continue working to protect hardworking families in our region from President Trump’s reckless, job-killing budget,” Bustos said in a press release.

Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, D-17th, addresses the House Agriculture Committee about using the technology of the future to grow our agricultural economy. Bustos joined with Republican Congressman Darin LaHood and a team of legislators in a bipartisan push to prevent the closure of the National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research in Peoria. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Cheri Bustos)

In a bipartisan effort, Bustos and Republican Rep. Darin LaHood joined with a group of legislators to mitigate a budget that Bustos called “short-sighted”.

In a June 2 letter to the House Appropriations Committee signed by LaHood, Bustos and 15 additional members of congress, the representatives wrote, “The vital research that is conducted at ARS facilities cannot be understated.”

Once known as the Northern Regional Laboratory, the Peoria facility is among the American Chemical Society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks for its contribution to the development of penicillin.

About 75 years ago, chemists and engineers there discovered a means to mass produce penicillin and by June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings, nearly 300 billion units of the “wonder drug” were available.

NCAUR also holds a patent for “Fantesk”, a cornstarch product key in the manufacture of low-fat foods, and chemists there also created the corn starch-based “Super Slurper”, a polymer capable of holding 2,000 times its weight. The polymer is used in Hollywood snow, hot and cold therapy packs, surgical dressings, diapers and more.

LaHood said he considers the laboratory’s accomplishments “incredible” and that it is critical that NCAUR continue to garner federal funding to continue its work.

“Our community’s advocacy has truly paid off today, with the agriculture appropriations bill containing full funding for the Peoria Ag lab,” LaHood said in a statement Wednesday, July 12.

“I applaud the work of my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee for including full funding for the Peoria Ag lab and will continue to work alongside my colleague Rep. Cheri Bustos to ensure that this funding is maintained as Congress continues the appropriations process.”





— Bipartisan effort saves funding for Peoria ag research center —