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      Local leaders looking to privatize Ag Center in Weslaco

      Local leaders are looking into privatizing the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, in order to keep the research and jobs in the Rio Grande Valley.

      "Certainly the closing of the lab is going to have a very big impact on RGV agriculture," said Ray Prewett, the president of Texas Citrus Mutual. "What were trying to do with the center in Weslaco is to turn it into a largely private agricultural research center."

      Prewett said researchers are working with universities as well as private companies to come up with a plan to continue research on topics like pest and disease controls.

      "We're doing a conceptual plan right now and then the next thing will be a feasibility effort to determine who are the most likely and most impactful folks that we can have there," he added.

      Although it is still in the planning stages, Prewett said the move is important to the region, given its proximity to the border.

      He cited the recent outburst of citrus greening disease as proof.

      "We don TMt know how widespread the spread of the disease is right here across the Rio Grande river in Northern Tamaulipas, he said. The border violence has limited the amount of inspections and surveys that can be done in the area."

      Though the exact impact of its closure remains unknown, Prewett said what is known is that the research the center does needs to continue.

      The USDA will shut down the Agricutural Research Center in mid-June.

      They reassigned almost 70 full-time employees to other centers across the United States, and gave them five months to leave the Valley for their new assignments.

      Prewett said once the feasibility study is concluded, supporters of a private facility will have to make an arrangement with the research center to continue doing their work.