Wisconsin Farm Report journalist Pam Jahnke recently interviewed UW Extension Soybean Specialist Dr. Shawn Conley about possible effects of the upcoming state budget shortfall on UW Extension agents. (You can listen to the entire interview below.)
As it now stands, the budget shortfall for UW Extension Specialists is $1.7 million, or 18 percent of their budget. While Dr. Conley is working hard to do “more with less” he also notes that there will likely come a time where agents will have to do “less with less.”
Dr. Conley defines his job as conducting research and delivering its findings to farmers, crop consultants and technical service providers across the state. The goal is to help Wisconsin growers consistently put into the field the most “economically, environmentally and sustainable crops out there.” By doing so, farmers should both save money and improve their bottom line.
Dr. Conley thinks the shortfall will be felt most at the county level. Agents may need to expand to serving other counties. This means more time spent on the road, less frequent personal contact, and possibly missing events such as field days.
Dr. Conley adds that the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, funded through checkoff dollars, has been helpful in supporting his research and filling the gaps. Industry also supports his efforts but with the decline in crop prices, fewer resources are available.
One less obvious effect of the budget shortfall is the loss of technical expertise. After the former Extension Weed Specialist left for a job in industry, for example, the position went unfilled. That knowledge gap was felt last year when glyphosate resistant weeds affected soybean yields. As other Extension Specialists take new positions or retire, Dr.Conley is concerned other knowledge gaps will emerge that can hurt farmers.
Dr. Conley takes no political stand on these issues. Instead, he urges farmers to understand the current challenges and ask questions of whomever they feel is appropriate—such as UW Extension administration, county officials, legislators and the governor.
At the end of the day, Wisconsin looks to its farms and farmers to feed our state and a growing world. We all benefit from healthy, sustainable farms.