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Land-Grant institutions around the Southeast are in danger of losing traditional agricultural research and extension programs due to cutbacks in funding. Farmers will need these traditional programs to have a chance to meet the demands of feeding a world population of nine billion people by 2043.

 

Support your Land-Grant university

I received an e-mail recently from Johnny Wynne, dean of the College of Agriculture at North Carolina State University, asking for support for funding for agriculture at his university.

Unlike many, if not most, ag deans in the Southeast, Johnny came up through the ranks at North Carolina State. Based on my 30 years or so of experience working at a Land-Grant university, I’d say Johnny is one of the best ag deans we have in the Southeast. Best might better be defined as realistic and practical.

Here’s what Johnny is asking North Carolinians to do: “We ask that you write a short note describing why agricultural research and Extension programs are important to you. You may want to note that agricultural program funding has not kept up with other state spending. Since 2000, agricultural program funding has grown by only 18 percent as compared to 43 percent growth in overall state spending. Also, our state’s 74 billion agricultural industries supports 19 percent of our total economy and 17 percent of our workforce, yet North Carolina invests only one-half of one percent of the current state budget in funding for agricultural programs.”

I support Johnny’s efforts and urge North Carolinians to support agricultural research and outreach at one of their two Land-Grant universities. I imagine everyone reading this magazine, or any agriculture-based magazine concurs. That’s the crux of the problem.

The vast majority of those state legislators Johnny is targeting don’t understand the importance of agricultural research and outreach and most don’t even know the connection with state education budgets. Most all they don’t have, or take the time to understand that legislation to improve prisons and roads, save wetlands, and even to improve education in North Carolina may be secondary to an impending worldwide crisis over food and water.

North Carolina, in fact, is in better shape than most Southern states when it comes to support of agriculture. Other states are in much more dire straights, when it comes to maintaining ag research and Extension programs.

Their neighbor to the south recently set what I think is a deplorable, yet predictable, standard for budgetary control at a Land-Grant university. Clemson, citing budgetary restraints, refused to hire a peanut research and Extension specialist to replace the retiring specialist.

Peanuts aren’t just — well peanuts in South Carolina. Since the demise of the federal peanut program in 2004, peanut production in the Palmetto state has been one of the top success stories among all the state’s business enterprises.

Out of desperation, peanut growers in the state agreed to pay 40 percent of the salary of a new peanut specialist. Only after the growers agreed to provide the money, did their Land-Grant university agree to fill the position.

That’s wrong in too many ways to discuss here. Suffice to say Clemson felt they didn’t have the money to spend and peanut growers felt they had to have a strong person to lead research and Extension efforts, so they made the best of a bad situation.

University budgets, not just Land-Grant universities and certainly not just North Carolina State University or Clemson University, are so out of line with mainstream America that they risk long-time supporters simply turning their backs and looking for a better way.

Agricultural colleges at Land-Grant universities across America are likely to be caught up in the sway. Phoenix University and other Internet-driven institutions are providing another way for the social sciences — even historically Land-Grant programs like engineering are beginning to see more and more classes going online.

Progress in teaching is good — heaven knows we need any improvements we can find in our education programs. Last academic evaluation I saw, public schools in the U.S. ranked 30th in the world — just behind Portugal — in quality of education programs.

As most of the folks reading this magazine know, and unfortunately most of the folks who don’t read this and other ag magazines don’t know, agriculture is different than other curricula.

The main difference is that Land-Grant institutions are charged with three missions in agriculture: Teaching, research and Extension. Unfortunately, shortfalls in funding for education in agriculture include the research and outreach components. That’s going be a problem for America’s farmers and ultimately America’s consumers.

Most of my thinking about the future of agriculture harks back to those nine billion people we are going to have to feed in the next 30-40 years. Can we really afford, regardless of what is the price, to see one of the foundations on which U.S. agriculture was built be swept away because of funding shortages for education?

U.S.farmers are one of the top providers of food worldwide — each one feeds himself or herself and 155 more folks. Do we really want to take away agricultural research and Extension at a time in history when many of those same farmers are going to have to feed themselves and 300 more people? I’m no futurist, but it sure seems backasswards to me.

If it seems backwards to you, I’d suggest you answer Dean Wynne’s call and make it painfully clear to your state and federal political leaders how important a strong ag program is to the long-term future for them and their constituents.

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