Save the agriculture budget: Penn State and its effects

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 at 10:11 PM
Save the agriculture budget: Penn State and its effects by Hannah Webster

Could you imagine a county fair without farm animals? How about a college without research development? Without Penn State University’s funding from the line item budget, agriculture research and a variety of outreach programs would be forced to survive on their own.

Luckily, on March 24, the nine month overdue 2015-2016 state budget was passed into law. The next obstacle is creating a balanced 2016-2017 budget by June 30. It is crucial that Penn State’s outreach and research are balanced and passed again for the coming year.

Since Penn State is a land-grant university, a specific amount of state and federal funding is designated to agriculture research and extension outreach programs. Without funding, an estimated 1,100 jobs are at risk and roughly 600,000 youth would no longer be taking part in extension programs.

Youth are not the only participants in the extension’s outreach. Farmers use the extension’s resources to receive cheaper prices on crop seeds and animal care, and maintain education in agriculture affairs.

“Pennsylvania is home to more than 59,000 farms, 97 percent of which are family owned. One in seven jobs in the Commonwealth is related to agriculture, and the industry has an estimated economic impact of $75 billion annually,” Pennsylvania State Rep. Martin T. Causer said during a press release on Feb. 1 in Harrisburg.

Causer continued, “Clearly an investment in PA agriculture offers great return.” Causer is also the 2015-2016 chairman of the house agriculture and rural affairs committee.

Alexis Tracy, owner of Four Seasons Equestrian Center, noted that without the extension’s resources, her and her husband would be spending more for crops elsewhere. Every spring, her and her husband get their soil tested by extension. They also buy fertilizer through 4-H and get all of their information through the extension’s resources.

“I think losing funding for extension is a huge hit. It’s a shortterm solution with very long-term effects,” said Tracy. “It would just definitely be a devastating loss to everyone in the county and to all other counties.”

Tracy started in 4-H at age 8 in the Cloverbud program. Now an adult, she continues to be active as a 4-H alum in Crawford County and an organizational leader in the same club she started in, KOWNTEE WYDE.

“I’m a huge supporter of 4-H. It taught me so much more than how to ride and how to follow the rules and how to become a better rider. But it prepares you for life,” said Tracy.

She went on to mention that 4-H is a well structured program. There are a lot of trips offered by extension that her club specifically encourages their members attend. Tracy mentioned that extension has a lot more to offer than just agriculture. 4-H teaches you “responsibility, character and leadership.”

Extension is not just a resource for agriculture, 4-H, and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Extension focuses on being the leading source for research and education in the community.

There are around a half dozen individuals in the state who focus on economic development, which is one of the main things that touches agriculture.

Specifically in Pennsylvania, there is a heavy emphasis on nutrition and lower income neighborhoods and communities where people are malnourished and their families do not have the resources and information to supply healthy food for their tables. “Dining with Diabetes” is a program offered by Cooperative Extension. This program teaches families how to cook healthy meals for their loved ones.

There are many other programs offered through extension for teens and young adults in some sort of trouble. Specifically in Mercer County, a life skills training program offered to pregnant teenagers is designed to educate these young women on economics, personal finance and nutrition.

“Agriculture is everywhere and it touches so many things,” said Jonathan Laughner, Penn State Extension District Director for Erie, Mercer, and Crawford Counties. “The mission we have is so unique, not just in the state, but in the nation; all landgrant- university’s goals are to provide that unbiased education and research-based-knowledge.”

Penn Vet, Penn State’s veterinary school, would be ruined without state funding. Within the last decade, the school’s funding has been in a confusing tumult. However, they continue to conduct research and provide aid to animals all over the Commonwealth.

A 30 percent decrease in pigs infected with Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome was seen after being placed in the Regional Disease and Control Program. Research was also conducted in 2015 to ensure survival to Pennsylvania’s bird population after the outbreak of Avian Influenza.

After conducting 70,910 tests for Avian Influenza and nearly 30,000 tests for surveillance of non-AI diseases, the school has educated 2.3 million Pennsylvanians and are currently working to continue education efforts through a variety of means.

“We cannot fund extension through tuition or some 99 percent of our endowments, which legally can be used only for the purposes specified by the donors,” said Executive Vice President and Provost, Nicholas Jones, and Dean, Rick Roush, when addressing the House and Senate Rural and Agricultural Affairs Committee.

Amelia Schmidt was a 10-year active 4-H member who showed beef and swine in Crawford County. She is now a political science major at Edinboro University. Being a political science major, Schmidt suggests a viable compromise at an earlier stage would have been better for the state, however she understands the thought process on both sides of the budget decision.

“The dream as an agriculture 4-H member is to go to Penn State to study Ag science, that’s the dream. There is merit and value to that. I think there’s beauty in that and you lose something if that’s not a resource that’s available particularly in a rural area such as this,” said Schmidt. “Clubs in Crawford County are really community based so you know people outside of yours and you meet people from different aspects of agriculture.”

Counties in Pennsylvania contribute $13 million in total to cooperative extension.

Mercer and Crawford Counties are very rural and agriculture is huge. Dairy is the main community along with crops. Erie County has a significant difference than other counties with a focus in viticulture and horticulture. One of their research stations is located in Erie, which would have been closed as a result of the budget.

Extension offices were given a date of July 1 to close their doors. Luckily now they won’t have to. With a 9 percent increase this year, and a 5 percent increase for 2016-17 from Wolf, staff is remaining optimistic.

Pennsylvania may have swerved to save a metaphorical deer standing in the middle of the road, however, these issues stay in packs, so more may show up in the near future. The state government must take precautionary measures to ensure no more deer are at risk of being hit. Everyone involved must work together to ensure a balanced budget is created for the upcoming fiscal year.

It is vital to maintain the 160-year-old land grant mission and not sever its tie with the rest of the nation. After all, we are the future. This is not something we can just let slide by. Don’t you want to keep up tradition?

Save the budget. Save Penn State. Save Extension. Save the youth. Save the animals. Save the farmers. Save the state. Save the nation.

Hannah Webster is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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