Extension programs brace for cuts amid state financial worries
Educators and agriculture advocates in Ohio and other farm belt states say budget proposals would cut funding at many universitybased extension programs, even as the grim economy prompts more and more penny-pinching residents to seek out their advice on gardening, canning and do-ityourself repair projects.
Each state has an extension office at its land grant university along with several local or regional offices. 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 ex tension and outreach for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
In North Dakota, which has a budget surplus, Gov. John Hoeven recommended a 16 percent increase in state general fund spending for the Extension Service at North Dakota State University, to $21.5 million. The Senate has passed a bill with $21.4 million in general fund spending. The House is still debating the bill. 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. 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. “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. — DTN