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Cuts will prune services to farmers, gardeners

Citizen Staff Writer
UA Cooperative Extension programs



University of Arizona programs that make it possible for agricultural research to get to ranchers and farmers – as well as thousands of urban horticulturists and more than 100,000 4-H members – will be reduced as UA tries to find $57 million in state-mandated budget cuts by June 30.

The Legislature decided Jan. 31 on $580 million in spending cuts to balance this year’s budget, which is about $1.6 billion in the red. UA President Robert N. Shelton said Monday that UA’s portion is expected to be $57 million.

A budget reduction of that magnitude, with only five months left in the fiscal year, will force UA to “eliminate or greatly reduce” outreach and community-based activities, Shelton said, including suspending a “significant portion” of UA’s extension operations.

Arizona Cooperative Extension is an outreach program of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It operates 24 extension sites throughout Arizona, including six on American Indian tribal lands, with more than 250,000 adults participating annually in programs offered.

In addition, more than 9,000 Arizonans volunteer in the programs offered and about 107,000 kindergarten through 12th graders are enrolled in 4-H Youth Development programs.

“If someone else thinks they can do what we do, they should do it,” said Jim Christenson, UA director of extension.

UA has extension sites in each of Arizona’s 15 counties, and none of them will be closed because of the budget crisis. But the staffing – and therefore services – will be significantly reduced, Christenson said.

“No county extension office will be closed, primarily because the offices are joint partnerships between UA, the county, tribes, the state and the federal government,” he said. “But they will be understaffed.”

Fifteen of about 60 UA faculty extension agent positions have been lost this year through attrition, Christenson said. Those positions will go unfilled to help meet the state budget cut. Graham, Greenlee and Maricopa counties will be the areas most affected by the understaffing, he said.

“It’s a crazy, crazy time,” said Kirk Astroth, director of Arizona 4-H and professor of youth development in UA’s Norton School of Consumer Science. “I just got back from the Navajo reservation talking about expanding across the reservation and I come back here and am hit with reductions.”

According to an economic impact report given to the Arizona Board of Regents last year, critical needs caused by recent vacancies and retirements in cooperative extension include an agronomy position in central Arizona, an urban horticulture position in Maricopa County, a family and health position in Yuma County, and several 4-H Youth Development positions.

“It’s going to inhibit our ability to make science useful to the people of Arizona,” Christenson said. “We’re a lifeline to the rural areas, the front door of the university. Yuma is the lettuce capital of the United States. If those farmers have a major problem, we work with them, and what we bring is research-based solutions from the university. There’s no other way for them to get that.”

Extension agents offer help with pest control, watershed management, agricultural commerce and other areas, including offering nutrition education in low-income schools and on Indian reservations. They also provide a variety of youth development opportunities through 4-H.

Only universities designated as land-grant institutions offer cooperative extension programs. Two conditions for their existence are that the state match federal land-grant funding and that the university receiving the funds continue a land-grant focus.

“Our mandate is to reach out and provide education to all the people in the state, especially those who can’t come to campus,” Astroth said. “We take the university to the people and translate research into common language that people can relate to.”

At his state of the university address in November, Shelton said UA defines the modern land-grand institution not only in the historical areas of agriculture, mining, home economics and engineering, but in “all the new and innovative ways that we can improve the life of the people of Arizona through our research and outreach efforts.”

But the state budget reductions will reduce those efforts to improve the lives of Arizonans, particularly in rural areas. And, Astroth said, it could result in higher costs to the state later.

“It costs an average of $30,000 to incarcerate a young person per year,” he said. “4-H provides that extra edge for kids to succeed in life so that they don’t become a burden on society.

“The number of kids we serve is 2 1/2 larger than the student body on the UA campus,” he said. “We want them to know that if they participate in 4-H, they are participating in the university to get them thinking about going to college.”

Christenson said the funding of cooperative extension is “complicated,” because state money funds all the faculty and up to 30 percent of the staff, while county or tribal funding – depending on if the extension site is in a county or on a reservation – provides the buildings and some of the costs for travel and operations.

“The federal money we get through being a land-grant college is matched by state and local money,” he said. “And there’s a trickle-down effect because the counties are losing about $100 million from the state and all of our county offices are funded in part by the counties they are in. It’s a double whammy for us.”

It’s a whammy that is coming at a time when more people are turning to the free services of cooperative extension, said Pima County Cooperative Extension Director Cynthia Flynn.

The Pima County site, which is on Campbell Road just north of Roger Road, is one of the largest extension centers in UA’s cooperative extension program. With 35 employees, hundreds of volunteers and 150 master gardeners, the center serves 75,000 people annually, many of them seeking information on nutrition or urban horticulture, Flynn said.

It’s a program near and dear to Nancy McCue.

She spent her first five years in Tucson killing every seed and plant she put in the ground.

But now, as a graduate of the Master Gardener program, McCue no longer commits horticide. Instead, she provides plant-saving advice to gardeners wondering why their green thumbs have turned brown.

“Gardening in Arizona is very different from gardening anywhere else,” McCue said. “Even though you may have been a good gardener in Washington state, it won’t translate here. And what we give out here isn’t home remedies, this is research-based information from the university that works.”

Flynn said the center fields a lot of calls on food safety. McCue said there’s been a noticeable increase in calls about gardening.

“Particularly in these hard economic times, we’re getting a lot more calls from people wanting to grow vegetable gardens,” McCue said. “It saves them money and people are needing that now. Just because (the extension service) doesn’t make front page news doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”

Continued from 1A

‘It’s going to inhibit our ability to make science useful to the people of Arizona. We’re a lifeline to the rural areas; the front door of the university.’

Jim Christenson,

UA director of extension

Did You Know?

• The Morrill Act, signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862, granted each state a portion of federal land within its borders to establish a “land-grant” public institution for the direct mission of bringing the benefit of university research to the general public. UA is Arizona’s land-grant institution.

• The UA Cooperative Extension Program is required by law to have an advisory committee that meets with the board of supervisors in every county to determine the needs of that county. Those meetings determine the extension offerings in various areas around the state.

• Volunteers who want to work with the extension program through horticulture, commerce of 4-H programs have to go through training and certification. UA extension has 9,135 certified volunteers who give more than 91,000 hours of service a year.

• The federal government has a formula to translate volunteer hours into monetary contribution; that formula says the 91,000 UA extension volunteer hours equals a $1.8 million contribution to Arizona, according to Jim Christenson.

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