BISMARCK, N.D. - Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., sponsored a bill that passed in Congress on May 17 to rename a federal U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Fargo after former Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer.

Under the bipartisan suspension bill, the Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center in Fargo will become the Edward T. Schafer Agricultural Research Center. A companion bill in the Senate is co-sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., but the Senate may simply adopt the House version by unanimous consent.

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Schafer, 70, headed the USDA as secretary for the last year of the George W. Bush administration. He served two terms as North Dakota governor from 1992 to 2000. As secretary he grappled with animal welfare issues, food safety and a federal farm bill. He went on to be an interim president of the University of North Dakota.

"Ed helped shepherd some of the policies that were in the farm bill," Cramer says. "It was good for us to have somebody from a production state, a governor, helping with the farm bill that year."

Senate consent

Congress honors important state individuals by naming federal buildings - post offices and courthouses - after them, Cramer says.

"Ed Schafer served as our governor for eight years, he went on to become secretary of agriculture - the only secretary of agriculture to come from North Dakota," Cramer explained in an interview at his Bismarck field office.

"In fact, we've only had a couple of (federal cabinet) secretaries that have come from North Dakota at all," Cramer continued. "Here we are, (agriculture) is our No. 1 industry. It just seemed that it would be appropriate to honor in this way, and at the same time it highlights the industry of agriculture."

Cramer says Schafer's service isn't over. The congressman wanted to initiate the effort while he is in a position to do it.

Cramer noted that he had informed Schafer about the honor, but hadn't asked his permission to introduce the bill. Schafer did not immediately return messages about the effort this week.

The Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center coordinates the research of five research units in two laboratories at Fargo - the Biosciences Research Laboratory (often identified with its red roof), and the Northern Crop Science Laboratory (blue roof). Both are on the North Dakota State University campus, and there often is collaboration between USDA and NDSU staff.

The overall mission of the center is to reduce the negative impact of foreign chemicals in food animals and food processing; develop knowledge and germplasm to improve hard red spring and durum wheat, barley, and oats; and improve the effectiveness of bees used in crop pollination and insects used in integrated pest management programs.

The USDA laboratory is part of the Agricultural Research Service. Other research at the lab involves improving the quality and profitability of sugar beet and potato production via research on germplasm enhancement, crop protection, and postharvest physiology, develop knowledge and technology to benefit the sunflower industry, and study the physiology, genetics, and molecular biology of weeds to improve and/or discover management strategies.

Beloved governors

Cramer's field office in Bismarck is in the William L. Guy Federal Building. Guy was not a federal official or a cabinet official, but he was a "beloved governor, to be sure," and when a previous congressional delegation - Sens. Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all Democrats - introduced the idea, "nobody really objected to that, including me," Cramer says. Guy served as governor from 1960 to 1973.

Cramer served eight years in Schafer's gubernatorial cabinet - four years as tourism director, and four years in economic development and finance.

"Ed Schafer was a remarkable governor. He really turned the economic tide in North Dakota," Cramer says. "He stabilized things - not just by good policy, which he was certainly good at - but even by virtue of his personality, his optimism. He believed that business could thrive in North Dakota. While we were an agrarian economy, that could be enhanced and we could be more diverse."