Dutch Minister of Agriculture van Aartsen has decided to merge Wageningen Agricultural University with the DLO institutes for agricultural research in Wageningen. The minister wants one centre of an internationally high standard, in which MSc and PhD education, fundamental research and applied science and technology are combined. The brain port Wageningen, as Van Aartsen called it, will also include the International Agricultural Centre, which offers short courses for foreign students and carries out consultancies in developing countries, and the International Land Reclamation and Irrigation (ILRI) Institute. Van Aartsen's decision is based on the advice on this subject given by the mayor of Rotterdam, Bram Peper, in May this year. WAU university and the DLO institutes welcome the minister's initiative.
Van Aartsen also had bad news for Wageningen when he presented his 1997 budget on 17 September. The university is faced with a six million budget cut in the coming two years, and the DLO institutes will receive four million guilders less from the Ministry of Agriculture. DLO is in a phase of privatisation and has already undergone a thirty million guilder budget cut in the past two years. WAU's Executive Board is furious about the minister's financial decision: it says the cuts will have a bad effect on the intended merger.
Meanwhile, WAU and DLO are having secret talks on how to reshuffle their research into one organisation. They intend to the present a plan to Van Aartsen next month. The minister will first defend his plan in the Dutch parliament, and after its approval will appoint a new chairman of the Wageningen knowledge centre at a later date.
Legumes are able to transform nitrogen into useful salts which can replace fertilizers, through their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing Rhizhobia bacteria. Scientists have assumed that this transformation is based on a unique set of hundreds of genes in the plant species and the bacteria. The WAU department of Molecular Biology and colleagues in Leiden have recently disclosed that the genes are not that unique, but that the procedure which enables them do the job is quite complicated. Their results shed new light on the possibility of transferring this nitrogen fixation process to cash crops like wheat and rice. If this is successful, far less fertilizer would be needed to raise crops and produce food. However, the technology will not be available for at least fifty years, according to research team leader Ton Bisselink of the WAU.
A kind of war is going on in large parts of the Dutch countryside between farmers and nature lovers. The farmers want to increase production levels in order to survive international competition, the latter want no pollution and more nature reserves. The WAU Department of Extension Sciences last year assisted in peace talks between farmers and a nature group in De Peel, a region where there are many intensive pig farms. After a year of negotiations they drew up a joint plan for the region, in which farmers will withdraw from the area designated for nature reserves, and in return they will not be hampered by the nature group in setting up farms elsewhere. The government is assisting this bottom-up rural development by providing subsidies for farmers who want to adapt to the new situation.