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7 percent from Extension budget: closings, layoffs

Take a 7 percent slice out of a large Domino's pizza and chances are you'll still have plenty to eat and a bit to share with your buddies. It's just 7 percent, after all, not a big chunk of a large pie.

But take that same 7 percent cut out of a budget that's already strapped, already trying to feed more people than it can nourish, already too meager to do more than sustain itself and the pain becomes acute. It's especially so when 7 percent whacks have been chipped out of the pie for several years.

“We'll take our cuts,” says Jaroy Moore, resident rirector of the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Lubbock. “But we'll have to eliminate some programs. We can no longer do everything for everybody but we'll continue to do the best we can with fewer projects.”

Moore said the station had absorbed previous cuts without losing key people. “But now, since about 90 percent of our budget is personnel, we'll have to reduce staff.”

Staff cutbacks for Extension and Research centers mean experiments, field trials and programs get sort changed. Scientists have no technicians to plant, manage and harvest test plots. Extension specialists have no aides to work with on-farm demonstrations and to help tally data.

Much of the manual labor necessary to perform the often mundane but crucial tasks involved in demonstrations and experiments no longer is available.

County meetings, on-line educational programs, and one-on-one consultations become rare because too few people, too few resources, too few dollars remain to support the efforts.

Moore says he and other Experiment Station directors understand the need, brought about by a huge shortfall in the Texas state budget. But like most, he's frustrated that the center will not perform some of the tasks farmers, homeowners and others in or close to agriculture will need.

Three small Texas research stations face an even harsher reality. The plant disease station at Yoakum, in Lavaca County; the forage and vegetable research station at Angleton in Brazoria County; and the research station at Munday, in Knox County, will close as a result of budget cuts.

Ten of the 17 positions at these stations will be eliminated. The others will be transferred to other locations.

Immediate effects of these cuts will be displacement of loyal employees, reductions in services and applied research and elimination of a source of information for farmers, ranchers and other citizens close to the stations.

Long-range effects could be even more drastic. For more than a century, land grant universities, through research and Extension programs, have kept pace with agriculture's needs and looked far ahead to potential problems with research geared to provide answers before they are needed.

Funding cuts will jeopardize that foresight. No one can predict what impact a program shortchanged today will mean to a farmer or rancher 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Perhaps a variety trial will be scrapped; perhaps a herbicide test will be eliminated; perhaps a new pesticide will not be tested, leaving future farmers without the tools they'll need to feed what, by then, will be a population double what they feed today.

No doubt, Research and Extension centers will respond to the challenge. They've faced budget cuts before and will continue to perform their missions with dedication. But when research is needed most is not the time to make drastic cuts.

We can't propose a solution to the state's monetary problems. We can't balance our own checkbooks. Certainly no one wants to pay more taxes. But the solution appears to be increase income or cut programs. Cuts have won the day so far, but at some point we have to ask what the services we want and expect from government are worth.

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