Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Extension ‘on the rebound,’ farmers told

This story appeared in the June 7th edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state.

The director of Virginia Cooperative Extension said that agency is steadily rebuilding its presence in county offices across Virginia after staffing cuts in recent years.

“I think we’re on the rebound, and good things are starting to happen,” Dr. Edwin Jones, an associate dean at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors at their May 24 meeting.

Farm Bureau has for some time maintained that localities in Virginia need at minimum one agriculture Extension agent, one 4-H agent and one administrative employee. The 2012 Virginia General Assembly appropriated an additional $500,000 for Extension funding for each of the fiscal years in the biennium, for a total of $1 million.

“It was good to hear that vacant Extension positions are being filled,” said VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor. “Having someone local who can address questions ranging from crop and livestock production to business planning to natural resource management is critical to maintaining a sustainable food production system in Virginia.”

Last July, Extension had 179 agents statewide. Jones said 68 agents have been hired since January, though not all are filling new positions. “We’ll be filling about another 10 with recent appropriations from the General Assembly,” he said.

Current staffing is nearly 220 agents—at least 90 agricultural and natural resources agents and at least 90 4-H agents. The others are family and consumer sciences agents.

“I’m thinking if we get around 230, we’ll have a pretty solid base,” Jones said. “I think the pressure will be off many of those who are trying to do more than they can do.”

Through its local offices and specialized agents, Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities—Virginia Tech and Virginia State University—to consumers and farmers alike. Extension staff deliver programs through a network of 106 local, county and city offices, six 4-H educational centers and 12 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers.

In some counties, Jones noted, more than one ANR agent is needed, and when working with youth programs, “it’s really hard (for one agent) to do 4-H on a multi-county basis.” The FCS agents tend to serve four or five counties each, working with programs related to nutrition, parenting and family finances, among other topics.

Extension is funded through the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments. It’s a unique system, Jones said. “If we wanted to create it today, it wouldn’t happen.”
 
On average, he said Extension covers two-thirds of an agent’s salary, and the other third is paid by the locality or localities that agent serves. In most instances, he said, counties share the cost of an agent position, “and in some cases the county bears the entire cost of the agent.”

VFBF News Lead: Animal control officers get training on ag animal care

*News Leads are the weekly top agriculture stories written by Farm Bureau’s Communications Department and sent to local newspapers and TV stations around the state as a news release. This story was released on Oct. 20.



Photo by USDA

RICHMOND—Virginia animal control officers are receiving training on agriculture animal care standards that were approved by the 2011 General Assembly.

“We want them to know how to enforce the new animal care standards law,” said Dr. Daniel Kovich, program manager for the Office of Animal Care and Health Policy within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Since the legislation passed in April, Kovich has been meeting with animal control officers so they are aware of the new law, know how to apply it, and understand how to educate the public about animal welfare.

 “The average person gets conflicting messages about animal welfare,” Kovich said. “How do animal control officers manage this public confusion? These people expect the animal control officers to share their viewpoint and do something about it [alleged animal abuse].”
 The new legislation sets a reasonable standard for agricultural animal care based on accepted animal husbandry practices.

“Our farmers take care of their animals and use management practices that are appropriate for each animal,” said Lindsay Reames, assistant director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “They know what needs to be done to take care of their farm animals and this law codifies basic care standards.”

The law mandates that farmers give their animals proper feed, water and veterinary care. It is intended to catch bad actors who fail to provide for the basic needs of their livestock.

Prior to the new legislation, only companion animal care standards existed. “This is a tool for earlier intervention in cases of animal neglect so it doesn’t get to the point of animal cruelty,” Kovich said.

Animal care is a topic that was identified recently by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance as one that consumers want more information about. The USFRA was formed by a wide range of farmer-led organizations and agricultural partners to lead a dialogue in answering Americans’ questions about how farmers raise their food.

Farmers believe they take good care of their animals but some consumers question those practices.

“Farmers use accepted, science-based care for their animals to keep them safe, healthy and productive,” Reames said. “It’s hard for the average person who’s never been on a farm to understand how farmers care for their animals. But their practices are for the good of the animal.”