Abraham Lincoln started the Land Grant college idea, and Extension and Research filled the "three legged stool."
Now all three are in jepaordy because of limited funds from these hard times. Extension is taking it hardest because the dream and reality of a county office in all 3000 US counties is coming to an end.
Educators and agriculture advocates in Ohio and other farm belt states say budget proposals would cut funding at many university-based extension programs, even as the grim economy prompts more and more penny-pinching residents to seek out their advice on gardening, canning and do-it-yourself repair projects. Each state has an extension office at its land grant university along with several local or regional offices. They provide services and research in agriculture and consumer sciences, on topics ranging from organic farming and animal breeding to child care, nutrition and work force development.
Farmers, consumers, educators and small businesses all rely on extension offices for help and advice. Officials are bracing for potential layoffs or restructuring at the cooperative extension service programs from Minnesota to Louisiana, as state and county governments that largely fund the programs say they must cut their contributions amid the recession. “It’s fairly common with the state budgets suffering as much as they are,” said James Wade, director of extension and outreach for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Ohio allotted about $26.3 million in 2008 for the Ohio State University Extension program.
Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan would scale back funding to $21 million in fiscal 2010 and just under $20 million in 2011. The extension office announced this week that it is cutting 22 of its 235 county educator jobs after two funding reductions. It’s also restructuring its staff and eyeing more layoffs under proposed budget cuts. Its office in northwest Ohio’s Allen County will close because the county can’t afford to help with funding. With a similar reorganization and funding drop in Minnesota in 2003, many unhappy clients found it difficult to adjust to having less one-on-one service from field agents, said Bev Durgan, dean of extension at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota is facing another round of proposed cuts, as is economically hard-hit Michigan, where Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to combine extension and agriculture research budgets and proposes cutting the total funding by half, from $64 million to $32 million. At Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, officials expect to lose more than 100 extension instructors and staff under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget. “The public has really relied heavily on their parish offices being the door to solutions to local issues,” especially as they rebuild their lives in areas ransacked by hurricanes, extension Director Paul Coreil said. “I think then they’re going to say, ‘What happened?”’
In Ohio, Jay Begg, 51, a farmer in Allen County, has relied on his local extension for everything from pesticide training to leadership skills as a child growing up in the 4-H program. “I think it’s going to be harder, especially for the guy like me, the part-time farmer or the beginning farmer who has more questions,” he said. But the prevalence of other information sources may make the extension less important than it once was, he said. That theory doesn’t fly with Tim DeHaven, 62, who co-owns two garden centers in Allen and Hancock Counties and says he regularly contacts the extension for help. “People like us, we can’t replace what these people do for us,” he said. The closing is also bad news for the increasing number of residents seeking help with moneysaving projects like canning.
“The unfortunate thing is, at a time when we’re in economic straits, when we are needed more than ever, we’re not going to be able to do the same services, at least not this year,” Allen County extension director Nancy Recker said. It’s not yet clear how the cutbacks in Ohio will effect specific services for farmers and other extension clients, said Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Perhaps the only certainty is that any cuts will have ripple effects for businesses and residents in rural economies, he said Tuesday from Washington, where about 100 Ohioans were lobbying the state’s congressional delegation for help with agriculture funding.
The advance of the Internet has seemed to wipe out any advantage of driving or calling to the county Extension Office. In this county, it seems like 99% of the farmersgo to the USDA Farm Service Office and not to the Soil and Water or Extension Office right beside it. Extension gets a few gardeners or 4-H aged parents but that is it.
Extension has helped my family most of my life. Then, the county agent was somebody. Today he or she just blends in with everyone else.
It is easy to be torn between tradition and reality. The reality is I never go there for information, they are too far behind the times.
There is one man, one man only I go to in this state for information. He does his job, he knows what I don't know. I need him. One out of how many thousand employees?
It hurts to write this but if I ran my farm like Extension and most government offices run theirs, I would be broke before I started.
My 4-H agent and county agriculture agent from 1957-1969 are sickened by this happening. They taught me so much and took me to so many good places. They are good men, I always hold them in highest esteem.
Some institutions can't be kept forever.
It looks like the Extension Service has seen its time?