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.”

Virginia Farm Bureau achieves nine out of 11 budget successes

The General Assembly passed a budget on Wednesday, April 18. The next step is for the Governor to review the budget report and offer any amendments or veto the bill. If he signs the bill with no changes then the bill will become law on July 1, 2012.

Virginia Farm Bureau policy was achieved on nine out of 11 on the budget amendments. This brings our final total of successful issues for the General Assembly to 43 out of 51 policy issues.

Where Farm Bureau Policy Prevailed in the State Budget

Coyote Program: $40,000 was added each year of the biennium to bring the funding to a minimum amount of $120,000.

Reforestation of Timberlands Program; Computer Program Needed to Operate RT Program: $130,000 was added each year of the biennium to increase the amount of state matching fund to a total of $557,570. In addition, the General Assembly provided $120,000 each year of the biennium to replace the dysfunctional computer program used to distribute the funds to landowners. This was necessary to keep a functional RT Program.

Soil and Water Conservation District Operational and Technical Assistance Funding: The General Assembly restored $2.046 million for each year of the biennium for district operations. The General Assembly further requested the Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for a long-term adequate, consistent and reliable funding formula for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The General Assembly also prohibited the State Soil and Water Conservation Board or Department of Conservation and Recreation from changing any district boundary lines until after the General Assembly had time to respond and act upon the recommendations of the study.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Both the House and Senate appropriated an additional $500,000 each of the fiscal years for a total of $1 million for the biennium.

Weights and Measures Program: The General Assembly eliminated the per device fee for weights and measures inspections. They added $250,000 for the first year of the biennium to the program to address the $2 million gap that has existed in the program for the last several years.

Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund: The General Assembly maintained the $1 million in funding for each year of the biennium.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services International Marketing Opportunities: The General Assembly maintained the $260,000 each year of the biennium to support international marketing opportunities for Virginia agriculture and forestry products.

Beehive Grant Program: The General Assembly appropriated $250,000 to support the legislation creating the Beehive Incentive Grant Program.

Farm Bureau has 34 successes at General Assembly

Martha Moore
Vice President, Governmental Relations

As the General Assembly concluded without a budget, Farm Bureau policy positions prevailed on 34 out of 40 issues. This number will change once we know the outcome on the state budget.

A big thank you goes out to those of you who made legislative contacts when we asked you as well as those of you who participated in Legislative Day. We can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for legislators to hear the issues and how they affect agriculture straight from Virginia farmers like you. Your contacts made all the difference this year, and we can attribute our success to you.

If you are a producer member and would like to receive our action alerts, please email Kelly.Pruitt@vafb.com.

Below are some highlights from this year’s session:

Animal Care

• Successful in defeating all legislation that place arbitrary and unscientific animal husbandry practice restrictions on farmers and prevented giving human rights to animals

Game Laws

• Made coyotes and feral hogs nuisance species so that this would allow some permanency beyond regulations for an open season on these nuisance species

• Defeated all bills that would have allowed Sunday hunting

Property Rights

• Passed a resolution placing a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2012 to permanently protect property owners from eminent domain takings for private benefit

• Ensured that landowners are fairly compensated for factors that impact the fair market value as “lost profits” and “lost access”

Please stay tuned on this issue as we are working on developing a statewide campaign on getting the ballot initiative passed. Look for more information on how your county Farm Bureau can help ensure that are successful in a major final piece of achieving our policy position on protecting your property rights from eminent domain abuse.

Virginia Cooperative Extension/ Agriculture Experiment Station

• Passed a commending resolution on the Agriculture Experiment Station’s 125th Anniversary to highlight the programs that have helped support farm profitability

Strengthening Virginia Cooperative Extension at Local Level

Virginia Farm Bureau believes very strongly that every locality needs at a minimum of one agriculture agent, one 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. Senators Edwards and Hanger and Delegate Sherwood carried budget amendments to help VCE get one step closer towards meeting this goal. The amendments were partially accepted in the proposed versions of the House and Senate budgets that were released this week. Both the House and Senate included $500,000 in each year of the biennium for additional extension agents. This will be part of the ongoing discussions regarding the budget this will be passed by the General Assembly over the next few weeks.

In July 2011, VCE had 179 agents across Virginia. By January 2012, with the funding provided, Virginia Cooperative Extension is projecting to have over 210 agents across Virginia. While this is a huge improvement, there are still vacant positions across Virginia and every locality fails to have at least one agriculture and 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. While the budget amendment will not completely meet Virginia Farm Bureau members’ wishes, we are pleased that the General Assembly’s intentions are clear that they are still willing to continue to work towards this goal by filling a few critical vacancies in many localities across Virginia.

As the front door to the land-grant university system, VCE uses objective, research-based educational programs to lead to more productive lives, families, communities, farms, and forests while enhancing and preserving the quality of the commonwealth’s natural resources. VCE provides every citizen of the state local access to the wealth of knowledge available through our two land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Recognizing that knowledge is power, Extension uses the resources of the land-grant university system to deliver educational programs through a network of 106 local, county, and city offices; six 4-H Educational Centers; and 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. Extension is funded through the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments. In addition, over 40,000 citizen volunteers contribute millions of hours every year helping identify and deliver needs-driven educational programs.

Secretary of Education releases Virginia Cooperative Extension study

The Virginia Secretary of Education released the “Analysis of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Structure, Funding Trends, and Research” report in late November. The Secretary of Education presented the study recommendations to the House Appropriations Special Subcommittee on Extension on Monday, December 19, 2011. She also presented the study recommendations to the State Extension Leadership Council on Wednesday, December 22, 2011.

The full study can be found at http://www.ext.vt.edu/files/vsoe-report-complete.pdf. Director of Extension Ed Jones reported to the State Extension Leadership Council that they plan to have regular updates on these recommendations on their websites as well as adding the ability for stakeholders to ask questions regarding the study.

This study makes a lot of references to Agency 229. Agency 229 is the category reference in Virginia’s state budget that allocates funding to Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extension Service as well as the Agriculture Experiment station. The study has a number of recommendations including better financial reports to the Virginia General Assembly for expenditures of Agency 229, trends between extension divisions and research divisions within Agency 229, comparison of expenditures for on-campus Extension activities vs. off-campus Extension activities. Other recommendations include better communication with Extension’s Leadership Council and within the university structure.

Virginia Farm Bureau has commented that this study helps to shed light on many of the questions our members were asking about where the funding for Extension is being utilized. The enhanced financial reports should help stakeholders to be able to better understand how the funding has been utilized. Many of the recommendations are directed to Virginia Tech to improve their processes for stakeholder input, improved communication as well as a re-evaluation of management decision making processes and allocation of resources. Virginia Farm Bureau will be monitoring how Virginia Tech implements these recommendations as well as the new financial reports.

Virginia Farm Bureau is encouraging its members to become more active in their local Extension Leadership Councils (ELCs) and ask for regular local ELC reports to their county Farm Bureaus. This should help strengthen the grassroots communications and feedback process.