Budgets Hitting Hard at Ag Education and Research

Cuts to agricultural colleges have far-reaching national impacts.

Published on: Jun 30, 2011

With many agriculture universities and colleges across the nation facing budget cuts from both state and federal governments, how they are responding vary from school to school. Specifically, large-scale layoffs have been threatened and even 4-H youth programs are facing the ax.

At a time when farmers are being asked to grow more for food and fuel to meet soaring world demand, experts warn against eroding the country's commitment to agricultural research. Ian Maw, vice president for food, agriculture and natural resources at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, says we're mortgaging our future with some of these cuts. Often, he points out, schools are forced to cut into the "bone and marrow" of their capacity to serve agriculture.

Beverly Durgan, dean of the University of Minnesota Extension program and chairwoman of an APLU agricultural committee, says cuts to agricultural colleges have far-reaching national impacts. As the funding slowly erodes away, the quality and the quantity of research and extension that can be done at the land-grant universities is decreasing. Durgan says people may not see the impact tomorrow but they will see long-term that not investing now means we'll have more problems in the future.

Perhaps no agricultural college was threatened with deeper cuts this year than at Pennsylvania State University. Governor Tom Corbett proposed reducing Penn State's total appropriation, including agriculture, by 52%. But, after people told lawmakers how much they value Penn State's agricultural programs, likely reductions will be far smaller, probably between $5.5 million and $8 million.

At the University of Georgia, Scott Angle, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has already laid off 18 workers and sold a farm. He said they have tried as best they can to protect the learning experience for students on campus, but research and extension capabilities have been compromised.

University of Florida Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Jack Payne says his operations were "held harmless" in the legislature this year. Florida construction and tourism were hard-hit by the recession, so he argued that agriculture and natural resources are now the backbone of the state economy.