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Tax elimination could slice Arkansas ag services

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3 on the Nov. 5 ballot would abolish taxes on food and over-the-counter medicines, which would result in at least a $435 million cut in state and county funds, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.

If the amendment passes and the state Legislature fails to devise a plan to recoup the money, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture could lose at least $3.5 million from the state.

"If Amendment 3 passes, extension's ability to deliver educational programs at every level could be discontinued or scaled back," says Ivory W. Lyles, associate vice president for agriculture/Extension. "Not only will it affect Extension, but all aspects of county government. Extension could face reduced revenue not only from the state, but from county funds as well, which means Extension could lose another $2 million."

This funding loss would serve a devastating blow to existing Division of Agriculture programs and services, said Milo J. Shult, vice president for agriculture. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is comprised of the Cooperative Extension Service (Extension) and the Agricultural Experiment Station (Research) with a network of trained faculty in all 75 counties and at 18 regional facilities. Division of Agriculture faculty conduct research and deliver educational programs dedicated to the state's largest industry — agriculture. It also delivers educational programs in the areas of family and consumer science and 4-H youth development.

"It would be a scaled down Division of Agriculture from the standpoint of programs and personnel," Shult said.

County agents, specialists and faculty teach farmers how to increase yields and reduce costs in row and nursery crops, livestock production and environmental practices.

The loss of $1.6 million to Extension and $1.9 million to research would translate into fewer Division of Agriculture personnel and programs to help farmers maintain the state's annual $6 billion agricultural industry.

According to the Solid Ground report recently released from the Department of Agriculture Economics and Agribusiness at the UofA Division of Agriculture, 20.7 percent of the state's workforce is employed on farms or in farm-related activities. Also, 12.3 percent of the gross state product comes from agriculture.

Passage of the amendment would mean scaling down or losing programs also taught by specialist and county agents in county Extension offices, such as agriculture row crops and livestock, community development, LeadAR, 4-H youth development, child care, health, nutrition, farm safety and the popular community-based Master Gardeners and Extension Homemakers programs.

It could mean losing informational television programs like "Today's Garden with Janet Carson" and "Guiding Children Successfully."

"We just can't absorb this kind of loss in light of the major funding cutbacks that have occurred over the past two years," Shult said. "We will look different come July 4 if the Legislature doesn't generate new revenue streams during this upcoming session, because that's when the amendment, if it passes, would go into effect."

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