Next time you call your Cooperative Extension Office, be thankful if your long-time and reliable advisor is still employed there. Next time you tap the Web for the latest land-grant research results, don't be surprised if it's a year old or older. And the next time you search for ag innovation information, you may be asked to pay for access.
These are changes already in place or rapidly coming as a direct result of red ink dripping from state and federal budget sheets. Research and Extension outreach programs across the country are being stripped of funding at the state and federal levels – as never before.
A number of public-funded national agricultural programs have already out of money. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, for instance, was cut from the federal budget for fiscal 2011 as part of the budget reductions in Congress.
The National Center for Appropriate Technology planned to maintain basic project services such as a weekly e-newsletter for sustainable agriculture producers. But as of this week, its websites were not functioning.
Fresh from a national meeting of agricultural college deans in Boston, Bruce McPheron predicts a rough road ahead for public funding. As chair of the national association, the dean of Penn State University's College of Ag Sciences has already been bouncing down that road.
As previously reported on this site, 2011-12 state budget cuts have taken $10.5 million (19%) from Cooperative Extension and ag research programs. Terminations and early retirements are eliminating nearly 200 of 814 permanent positions in the ag college. While those cuts remove payroll salaries, McPheron acknowledges that they don't necessarily cover retirement incentive costs or continuing benefits.
Some 82 persons have accepted the early retirement offer. Plans are underway to eliminate another 75 to 100 positions.
Ag research funding misperception
Most people, McPheron says, guess that about 75% of university agricultural research funding comes from agribusinesses. "The truth, for Penn State, is that industry-supported research amounts to about 5% of our total. The remaining 95% of grant and contract support for agricultural research in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, is public funding.
"This reinforces the continued need for public investment," he contends. "This research provides a substantial return on investment to society."
As the 2012 Farm Program develops amidst the growing vacuum of federal funding, producer checkoff programs will likely become far more important research funding sources. In 2011, for instance, 18 national checkoff programs overseen by USDA will generate $871 million, projects Kenneth Payne, director of marketing programs at USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Revenues from seven of those programs go to state programs.