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Extension: Still relevant?

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:



Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”



(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:

Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”

(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:

Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”

(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:

Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”

(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:

Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”

(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”

The university Extension system began as an experiment almost a century ago. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. Through World War I, the Dust Bowl and the Green Revolution, Extension changed with the times – mules to tractors, hand-hoeing to self-propelled sprayers, saved seed to biotechnology.

To keep up, it created a three-legged structure: research, education and family living, which includes 4-H. But lately critics contend Extension has outlived its usefulness, and legislators with sharp budget knives see it as ripe for trimming. DTN/The Progressive Farmer asked farmers, private industry and Extension to assess the system’s relevance as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Ask three farmers about Extension’s value to them and you are likely to get three widely different answers:

Michigan farmer Brian Nunemaker: “I haven’t been in a county Extension office in years. I couldn’t even tell you who my county agent is.”

Michigan dairy and crop farmer Doug Bloom: “My dairy specialist has been very valuable to us. But so much depends on who that person [Extension agent] is. If he or she is aggressive and gets out and works with us, he can be useful. But so many of them are content to sit at a desk and wait for retirement.”

(Of course, the same could be said of many in private industry. But Bloom’s comment confirms a negative stereotype throughout the countryside.)

Kansas wheat grower Joe Kejr: “We farm more intensively now and have higher goals for yields and profitability. I talk to Extension as much or more than I used to because I need to know what is happening across the state.”

What’s more, Kejr values the “unbiased opinion” Extension brings.

No matter who you ask, you will hear that farmers in search of answers are turning less to Extension and more to Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), management consultants and seed company representatives. In part that might be because they can get more personalized information from private industry. But it is also in part because there are fewer Extension agents and specialists to provide answers.

For years, land-grant universities have been under budgetary pressure to reduce the Extension field force. In 2009, for instance, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension consolidated operations. Instead of 97 county directors, it now has 20 regional directors – some with responsibility for as many as nine counties. Extension specialists also have had to take on more geography.

This whittling down of the Extension workforce is likely to accelerate. Some state universities are now in talks to coordinate research efforts, which will allow them to pare the number of Extension researchers they employ. University A, for instance, might drop research in weed science to concentrate on soils, while University B might then concentrate on weed science but drop animal science research.

“In some areas, our producers will have to rely on research from other states,” said Mike Gray, a University of Illinois interim assistant dean and Extension coordinator. In fact, Illinois has been shedding Extension researchers for decades. It had 100 in 1980; today there are only 30.

Busted budgets have hit some states harder than others. Michigan was in such bad shape a couple of years ago that there were serious discussions about eliminating Extension altogether.

Last winter the University of Georgia Board of Regents proposed closing half its Extension offices and eliminating the 4-H program.

Louisiana State University Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson complained last summer that budget cuts of 39 percent to Louisiana’s system “will put us back to the 1970s and ’80s, without an adjustment for inflation.”

For some, these cuts to Extension simply represent fiscal responsibility. For others, the decision to slash Extension is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“The Extension system in this country has been the envy of people around the world. I hate what is happening to it,” said Alison Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe. She is an Iowa State University Extension field crops pathologist and assistant professor who gravitated to Extension because “I wanted the opportunity to help farmers.”


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