Changing seasons shift gears for research center

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Superintendent Pat Carr uses Central Agricultural Research Center’s winter months to write for grants, research and outreach.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Sharp eyes can catch Central Montana’s seasonal changes, but they’re a little easier to notice around Moccasin’s Central Agricultural Research Center. Patches of different test crops sprout, grow and die side by side, until the absence of their patchwork is a notable change in itself.

The barren fields do leave one questions: What exactly is the staff at CARC doing now that winter’s here?

It turns out seasonal change is as obvious inside the buildings as out. While sunnier seasons see fieldwork at the Center, Superintendent Pat Carr said his staff dedicates the winter to the written word.

“The big thing we do in the winter is a lot of writing, a lot of reporting to programs and a lot of writing for grant support,” he said.

Part of the winter workload comes from the Center’s subjects. Crops can’t be planted, grown and studied overnight, Carr explained, and neither can their effects on soil. In the fall and winter, when the growing and harvesting seasons are done, results can be analyzed and interpreted.

 The crop cycle also gives Carr’s staff a break from fieldwork, providing more time to work on writing up research and results. The target audience for these writings varies, too. Scientific journal submissions have a more formal tone, but outreach needs to be accessible to the public.

“If research isn’t converted to some form that is public record, it’s pretty useless,” he said.

Carr clarified the majority of year-end writing is dedicated to a different task: securing funding.

“We’re very appreciative of the state support of the work that we do, but it’s not enough for the work that we do, and hasn’t been for a long time,” he said.

Carr has been in his field for over 30 years and has worked in multiple states. He said now, more than ever, grants are competitive. Extensive applications take massive amounts of time, and the amount of applicants competing makes trying for every possible grant a necessity.

“Unlike research, you can spend 200 hours writing a grant only for it to not get funded,” he said.

Application requirements contribute to the hours spent on grants. Carr said most grant agencies want more than one person, university or even state on a project, and networking takes time.

CARC usually has at least one part of grant applications on hand, though: relevance.

“I try to keep farmers aware of the grants we’re working on,” Carr said. “These grant agencies want to see evidence the farmers and ranchers want what you’re working on.”

That’s why all of the state’s research centers have an advisory board, according to Carr, created mainly from farmers and ranchers in the area. In addition, CARC’s staff tries to reach out for local opinion, and even has visitors stop in from time to time with suggestions.

It’s a lot of writing, and its only part of the workload. When it’s warm enough in the winter, Carr has staff taking soil samples from fields. The amount of work to be done leaves him grateful for the later months.

“We rely on the fall and the winter,” he said. “It’s as important as the summers, when we’re actually in the field.”

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