It would seem — perhaps out of necessity — that many of us in agriculture have mastered the art of lowered expectations. We don’t expect much, and we certainly don’t get much.
In late September, when word came that the bulk of the University of Georgia’s latest workforce reduction would come from agriculture — primarily the Cooperative Extension Service and the state’s network of experiment stations — there was more a sense of relief that it wasn’t worse rather than outrage that it was occurring in the first place.
As directed by Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly — the same cast of characters who gave their constituents one of the most convoluted immigration policies in the country — the University of Georgia reduced spending by 3 percent, with 40 job cuts being made in the Extension Service and another 27 in the agricultural experiment stations.
UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) Dean Scott Angle says the plan initially was submitted back in April, and the prescribed cuts were to be achieved through normal attrition — including retirements, employees leaving to take jobs elsewhere, and other reasons — not layoffs.
Angle concedes the latest round of cuts will make it even more difficult for the CAES to meet its core outreach and research missions.
“We’re not going to lay off anyone, but we’re not filling positions, which is just as devastating to our ability to carry out our mission,” says Angle.
“We’ve got some really serious issues. We get calls regularly about why we aren’t hiring an Extension agent in this county, and the reason is that we’ve had a 28-percent budget cut over four years. We’re way past the point to where we’re cutting insignificant programs no one is satisfied with.”
Angle also expects reduced funding from the federal government next year as well.
It just so happened that news of these budget cuts came during the same week of the Georgia Peanut Tour, which began this year in Albany.
In the seminar that’s usually held prior to the tour itself, UGA plant pathologist Tim Brenneman was scheduled to give a talk about the role of academics and research in preventing peanut diseases, but he detoured briefly to express the outrage that most everyone in the room was feeling in response to the personnel reductions.
“If we’re going to be relevant as a university, we have to be relevant to the clientele. We are mandated to care about peanuts — it’s federal,” said Brenneman, who then offered a brief history lesson.
“If you go back about 150 years, the federal government decided in 1862 through the Morrill Act to provide funding to the states to establish land grant colleges, and we were to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts.
“Further down the line, with the 1887 Hatch Act, federal experiment stations were established. Our forefathers knew that agriculture was important. A little later on, in 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service to carry research to farmers. That’s the foundation for who we are.”
Brenneman reminded the audience that in the old days, a Cadillac was thought to be “state of the art,” and anything that was considered the “Cadillac” of its class was the best.
“My version of a Cadillac is the university system, and it consists of a three-legged stool. One leg is research, and the center leg is Extension, including all county-based information delivered directly to growers.
“The other leg of the stool is teaching. We have to train students for industry and for farming. These three branches come together to form this system. We also work very closely with industry, and we make this system work to develop the agricultural industry.”
But, Brenneman said he was afraid that in his lifetime, he was witnessing the initial stages of the demise of this system.
“And this system is the envy of the world. Many places around the world have tried to emulate it. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, and due to a lack of appreciation for what this system has done, we are seeing reductions on a daily basis.
“The University of Georgia just had a 3 percent budget cut, with about 130 positions being cut, and 70 of those positions are from the College of Agriculture. We’re seeing the legs of this stool get shorter and shorter and shorter with each passing year.”
The personnel who remain are doing the jobs of two to three people, he said. “We’re getting stressed further and further, making us less able to conduct the mission that we’ve been given. Hopefully, we can reassess our priorities.”
As we continue along this path of indiscriminate budget cuts, I’m not sure what we’re replacing the Cadillac with, but you can be assured that the new model won’t drive as well or ride as smoothly.