Is Extension Extinction Underway?
We've all heard the news and the headlines: “Virginia Cooperative Extension Services Facing Restructuring” … “Proposal Cuts $2 Million From University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.” When Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed cutting the Oregon State University Extension service by 18.8 percent in 2011, it was on top of a cut of 14 percent the previous biennium.
Paul Craig shows off the roadside marker that was erected in Schellsburg, Pa., in 2012 to commemorate the hiring of the first county agent in Pennsylvania. Extension services around the country have been under budget pressure for years. Reductions in funding from the traditional tripartite base of federal, state and county support has forced restructuring, layoffs and office closures. The President's 2013 budget calls for a reduction in federal spending for Extension services of only $12.7 million in Extension-only funding; however, other funding of combined Extension, education and research also faces proposed cuts. That's not good, but it could likely get worse. The Ryan budget endorsed by the House of Representatives would slash discretionary spending, which accounts for virtually all Extension funding, by 50 percent over 10 years.
Combine these scenarios with state and local budget woes and state Extension services may be facing extinction. One reason is the only thing left to cut is workers.
FACING BUDGET PRESSURES
"Here in Pennsylvania, our administration would tell you almost 95 percent of our budget is people," said Paul Craig, Extension program leader, crop management team. "You can't cut back on other costs, and our budgets aren't keeping up today."
Craig is also the president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. In the past 10 years, membership has fallen from 3,200 to 2,100 as states have adapted to the new realities of budget cuts and a changing clientele. As farm size and farmer sophistication have changed, so has demand for services.
"In 2000, the farmers and agricultural industry in the state told the administration that they wanted more specialized knowledge from Extension," explained Craig.
Pennsylvania responded by setting up regional teams. Extension educators from nine counties were made part of groups, with each member taking on a particular area of expertise. Craig became the forage specialist with others taking on crops, plant nutrition, grain and pest management. Dairy and horticulture teams were also set up by region. Each Extension agent retained county duties as well; however, now they also traveled to other counties in their group.