In an e-mail to university administrators and state IPM coordinators on Sept. 19, the USDA, CSREES (Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services) announced that the 30-year system of formula funding for State IPM Programs would be converted to competitive grants effective Oct. 1.

As a further blow to agricultural and research programs in the Southeast, formula state cotton IPM monies were lumped in with State IPM funds and will also be distributed in competitive grants.

Combined, the two IPM programs brought in about $8.3 million to land-grant universities across the country. Obviously southern cotton producing states, especially states with large acreages like Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, will be much harder hit than other states and other regions.

Converting what had been formula funding to each state to competitive grants that can go to each state, or potentially to only a handful of states, plays havoc with the infrastructure of states that depended on the annual funding to fund both positions and programs.

Many states have been using these funds to support the salaries of people who are critical to the infrastructure of their IPM programs.

In an effort to avoid eliminating, or at best restructuring the positions, deans and experiment station directors are approaching their state legislatures for gap funding to provide monies to fund these positions until the next funding cycle.

The problem is that in most states — state funds are extremely limited and many other programs are approaching state legislatures asking for money to save one program or another.

Some states have moved IPM monies totally to programs and away from positions. Though these states won’t be as adversely affected in terms of people losing their jobs, they will be more severely limited in how Extension workers, especially at the county and regional levels, do their job.

Virtually every aspect of production agriculture will be negatively affected by a loss of information and assistance for pest management.

In most states, especially in the Southeast, crop specific Extension programs rely heavily on information developed by their state’s IPM program. Without basic information on how to manage a specific insect, disease or weed, Extension agents at the county level will be hard-pressed to develop meaningful pest management programs in cooperation with growers.

The ever-skyrocketing cost of inputs puts a higher premium on pest management than at any time in the history of agriculture. To reduce the effectiveness of grass roots IPM programs, like county Extension offices, will no doubt be a serious blow to agricultural production in some areas of the Southeast.

The real key to how hard research and Extension programs in the Southeast are hurt depends in large part on how the transition is handled and the new competitive grant program is structured. The USDA, CSREES will send out RFPs (request for proposals), and how these requests are phrased will make or break the program, according to IPM coordinators.

In the Southeast, IPM coordinators have met twice via phone conference to put together a plan to try to influence the transition and how the RFPs will be structured. For example, they would like to know if grants will be limited to one Land Grant institution per state or more, and how this could be coordinated across that state’s IPM Program.

They would also like to see some baseline objectives that can be used to keep some infrastructure in place so they can keep positions in place.

Currently there are four Regional IPM Centers scattered across the country, and the hope is that these new IPM grant monies will be managed by each region.

In the Southeast, the IPM Center is at North Carolina State University.

If all the IPM and cotton IPM money goes out on a completely competitive grant basis, it could be difficult for states with fewer resources and smaller IPM programs to compete with states with larger programs.

Ames Herbert, state IPM coordinator in Virginia notes that the $134,000 or so in IPM funding Virginia Tech gets annually is leveraged to attract over $3 million in agriculture research and Extension grants.

Virginia is a relatively small agricultural state and gets no cotton IPM money, so it is reasonable to believe the $8.3 million that has for the past 30 years been allocated to 56 Land-Grant universities generates well over $200 million annually.

Annual reports on IPM activity are submitted each year to the USDA. The value of IPM programs apparently fell of deaf ears of the crafters of the latest farm bill. This will likely be one more blow to the infrastructure of Land-Grant agricultural research and Extension programs.

A great fear among Land-Grant university administrators is that this change in funding is a precursor to changes in other Federal funding. Hatch funds, for example, which have been in place since the inception of the Land-Grant System and began with the Morrill Act by the U.S. Congress in 1862, could be changed to competitive funding.

This change, some fear, would spell the end for agriculture programs at many Land-Grant universities.

Competitive grants can be a valuable tool in keeping research and Extension programs focused on the needs of the agricultural industry. The other side of the coin is that competitive grants can force research and Extension leaders to pursue grants that impact the long-term well being of agriculture, but do little to help solve the every day problems of farmers — like pest management.

The value of immediately converting from formula funding in which each state got a prorated share of the total IPM budget to an unplanned competitive grants system of funding is dubious at best. At best the way it was done was simply wrong. Not involving IPM coordinators and other stakeholders in developing the competitive grant program is tantamount to making a bad decision worse.

In the meantime IPM coordinators are scrambling just to let people involved in the program know what has happened. “This happened so fast and was done via an e-mail from CSREES only 11 days before funding was to be cut on Oct. 1, that many likely don’t know they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding,” Herbert says.

Unfortunately, the funding change is a part of the farm bill — it’s law, and it’s hard to change a law once it’s written. However, Herbert and his fellow state IPM coordinators are developing a plan for implementing the new competitive program and for a workable transition.

The best hope for farmers who need effective and economic pest management information and assistance is that the competitive grants program will be structured in a way that it will do the least amount of damage to the infrastructure of agriculture and Extension programs.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com