LSU students unhappy about farm closure

Pigs from LSU’s Swine Unit play in their water dish at LSU’s ‘Farm Day’ in 2009. The AgCenter’s budgetary decision to shut down the swine farm has upset some students. Show caption
Pigs from LSU’s Swine Unit play in their water dish at LSU’s ‘Farm Day’ in 2009. The AgCenter’s budgetary decision to shut down the swine farm has upset some students.

LSU agriculture students are upset about LSU Agricultural Center plans to shut down its swine farm.

About 40 LSU students met Tuesday with faculty leaders and LSU College of Agriculture Dean Kenneth Koonce to express their frustrations about the decision that will affect the university’s animal sciences program and more.

“What happens when all these programs disappear and no one wants to come here for agriculture?” said LSU student Jeanne Wood, who graduated in animal sciences in May and intends to attend veterinary school.

“I don’t want to just learn out of a book,” said Wood, of Metairie. “I want to see the real animals.”

The LSU AgCenter, which operates independently from the flagship LSU campus, made the budgetary decision to shut down the swine farm, officially called the Central Research Station Swine Unit, located on Ben Hur Road, by the end of the fiscal year in June, AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said.

“We’re losing probably $150,000 a year operating it and there’s no longer a swine industry in Louisiana,” Richardson said.

“Our decision is pretty final,” he said, noting that more AgCenter cutbacks will be announced later this year.

The swine unit has been on the potential chopping block for while, Richardson said, and this year’s state budget cuts to higher education forced the decision.

The main LSU campus has used the swine unit for its teaching and research programs “for nothing” because the AgCenter funds it, Koonce said.

The AgCenter, which focuses on research and outreach, flirted with declaring a financial emergency, called “exigency,” this summer before deciding against it.

The main LSU campus, which houses the College of Agriculture, can better offset its state budget cuts through ongoing student tuition increases. The AgCenter does not enroll students.

Gary Hay, the director of the LSU animal sciences academic program, said about six academic courses rely heavily on the swine farm, so the curriculum will have to be revised.

The swine unit has about 70 breeding animals that produce nearly 1,000 offspring a year, Hay said.

Apart from students working with animals, Hay said, the work includes animal nutrition research and environmental work so the animals excrete less nitrogen and phosphorous.

Koonce said there are some preliminary discussions about how the main LSU campus can take over a downsized version of the swine farm, although budget problems persist.

“We don’t have anything in place now,” Koonce said. “This has just come up suddenly.”

“We’ll do everything we can to continue a strong program in animal sciences,” he said.

But student concerns persisted, particularly with LSU and the AgCenter being separate units with two different chancellors.

LSU junior Laura Hoffmann, of Chattanooga, Tenn., came to Louisiana just for the animal sciences program. She said she is concerned the university is adopting the view, “We have the horses and the cows, so we don’t need anything else.”

“It’s going to obliterate the animal sciences curriculum,” Hoffmann said.

Hay called that an exaggeration, but he said the swine unit shutdown is still a serious issue.

The bigger problem, Hay said, is ongoing state budget cuts at an agricultural and mechanical, land-grant university that “absolutely” continues to overlook its agricultural academic and research programs.

“We can’t absorb any more budget cuts without closing infrastructure,” Hay said. “We’re getting to the point we won’t even have the personnel to teach classes. This is serious.”

The budget cuts are continuing to the point that they cannot be fixed through efficiencies and tuition increases, he said.