Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget cuts of $300 million to the University of Wisconsin System would have a crushing impact on UW Cooperative Extension and agriculture in particular.
According to Rick Klemme, dean of UW-Extension, the cuts would mean the elimination of a number of Extension positions.
"If the 13% cut is distributed evenly, as the cuts in the past have been, the cuts would be $2.7 million to UW-Extension in each of the next two years for a total loss of $5.4 million over those two years," Klemme says. "That reduces our revenue stream by $2.7 million in each of the next two years."
Those cuts would mean the loss of 60 county agents if the cuts were all made at the county level, or a loss of 40 campus-based faculty including state Extension specialists, he says. There are just under 1,000 county and state Extension employees including support staff.
"These cuts include agriculture, family living, community development and 4-H, not just ag," Klemme notes. "That would be unprecedented for us."
Extension hasn't decided yet how they would handle the cuts.
"We're in the process of working that out," Klemme says. "We'll likely have a blend of state and county cuts. I don't know which cuts will be greater. Our impactful educational programs depend on our county presence and our long-term applied research base from the campus."
Extension has a complicated funding model. At the county level, Extension is funded by federal, state as well as county dollars. At the state level, Extension is funded by state and federal dollars. Also many agriculture professors at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls and UW-Platteville have 40% to 70% Extension appointments along with research and/or teaching appointments.
"The bottom line is if these cuts go through, Extension is going to be a lot smaller than before," Klemme says.
In addition to the cuts to the agriculture faculty, and UW-Extension cuts, Walker's budget proposal would slash one-third of UW-Extension's Discovery Farms funding.
Discovery Farms is a UW-Extension program that began in 2001. It evaluates and monitors efforts by state farmers to control runoff, calibrate fertilizer use and employ techniques to conserve land and water. The program monitors 20 Wisconsin farms and educates thousands of farmers on conservation strategies.
Discovery Farms has a $750,000 budget, of which $249,800 would be cut in the governor's proposed state budget effective July 1, 2016. The funding for the first year of the budget remains intact. The $249,800 comes from Agricultural Chemical Management Fund through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
What this all means
Walker's proposed budget cuts should concern you. If the Legislature passes the proposed budget, UW-Extension will be forced to slash positions, which means Wisconsin famers, 4-H members and families, as well as students majoring in agriculture at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls and UW-Platteville will feel the direct impact. College students majoring in ag would likely notice a reduction in faculty members and fewer courses being offered starting in the fall of 2015. That means it would likely take students longer than four years to complete a bachelor's degree.
If you don't want to see these cuts to UW-Extension, pick up the phone and call your state senator and state representative and let them know what you think about Walker's budget plan. Email your legislators and tell them why you are opposed to these cuts. And attend their listening sessions to voice your concerns. If enough Republican legislators vote with Democrats to minimize these proposed cuts, maybe they can prevent irreversible harm from being done to UW-Extension and the rest of the UW System.