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Alaska farm research jobs may be lost in federal budget cuts

Dennis Fielding raises grasshoppers. Sometimes by the hundreds. Sometimes by the thousands.

By experimenting on the pests at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the federal researcher is seeking ways to prevent outbreaks that can decimate the crops, such as barley, that fuel Alaska's agricultural food chain.

But by the end of the year, the scientist and his grasshoppers could be gone -- his job erased under cuts proposed to the Agricultural Research Service in President Obama's 2012 spending plan.

The budget, introduced in mid-February, calls for closing the U.S. Department of Agriculture research service laboratory and research unit in Alaska.

That means plucking nearly $6 million in spending on agriculture from the state, and could result in the loss of roughly 20 jobs in Fairbanks, Palmer and Kodiak, said entomologist Alberto Pantoja.

If funding is not somehow preserved, he said, "we will disappear as an agency in Alaska."

Pantoja worked as the service's lead researcher in Alaska, but left the job Friday to work for the United Nations in Chile, he said.

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