State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Budget cuts mean Extension offices that assist farmers will scale back

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 2, 2011 10:56 PM

The 19% cut in state funding to Penn State means less money for a program that helps farmers throughout the commonwealth: the Cooperative Extension offices. 


Every county has one, and it serves as a link between farmers and the research going on at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. 


How to grow more food on less land.  How to minimize runoff into the water supply.  How to beat back the plague of brown marmorated stink bugs. 


All these and more fall under the domain of questions Penn State researchers are trying to answer.  The Extension Offices are tasked with spreading the resulting tips to the state’s farms.    


Cuts to Penn State’s budget amounted to a loss of over $10 million for the College of Agricultural Sciences. 


Spokesman Chuck Gill said that will likely mean the college will have to eliminate about 75 positions, on top of positions that won’t be filled after people take early retirement.


How that affects the Cooperative Extension offices – which are managed by Ag Sciences – won’t be clear for another couple of months.


The offices are not funded by tuition, so they don’t benefit from the tuition hikes Penn State enacted. 


In the past, employees have seen their region extend from one county’s borders to include a county cluster. 


Gill said staff layoffs mean fewer will be out visiting growers with information, but also mean the College will have fewer people to leverage for the federal grant money that supports research. 


“As we lose that human capital to go out there and win those grants and bring in those additional dollars,” said Gill, “that has the potential to harm some of these programs that do get grant support.”


Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Farm Bureau, said farmers understand they’ll see a dip in services as the economy rights itself. 


“But we also want to make sure,” said O’Neill, “that things such as new regulations or intense budget cuts don’t negatively impact the ability of farmers to stay economically viable.”


Gill said there are many challenges down the road for the agriculture industry that will be tough to meet without a steady commitment to research and getting that information out to farmers. 


“Our dean (at the College of Agircultural Sciences) likes to make the point that any time you go to a restaurant and pick up the menu or any time you reach for the refrigerator door handle, you’re shaking hands with agriculture,” said Gill.  “And that’s really true.  You know, we all have to eat.  Food is not optional.”

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