Penn State University’s agricultural research and extension programs will face the budgetary ax if state legislators do not end the financial stalemate by May, a Penn State Extension representative said.
Penn State Extension programs, including 4-H Clubs, Master Gardeners, animal research programs and 67 offices statewide are at risk of closing if the program is not restored to the state’s 2015-16 budget and kept in the 2016-17 state budget, said Chuck Gill, public relations specialist at Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Up to now, the university has demonstrated strong support for extension programs by moving finances around to fund agricultural research and extension programs,” Gill said. “But we are getting to the point the university cannot do it. Penn State University is waiting on its state funding of over $200 million for education (from the state).”
Penn State Extension is part of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Extension programs are funded by a land script fund supported by a land-grant called Morrill Act established over 150 years ago, Gill said. The land-grant provides educational funding and resources to promote agricultural academics, he said.
The land-grant is a “formula funding partnership with the federal and state governments,” he said. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, Penn State Extension received $46 million from the state and $22 million from the federal governments, Gill said.
In 2015-16, the Penn State Board of Trustees approved a proposed budget increase of $3.2 million.
According to the appropriations request, $1 million would help commonwealth agricultural businesses implement new food safety regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Current programs from the university’s College of Agriculture would be maintained for $2.2 million.
But “no funding from the state has been received since last July,” Gill said.
The land script fund was part of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe’s line-item veto that zeroed out the fund for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Programs such as dairy herd research, forestry and horticultural programs are left hanging in the balance, Gill said.
“It is critical that the legislature and governor act to preserve this component of the land-grant partnership and protect the agricultural research, education and service programs that promote our economy and quality of life,” Eric Barron, president of Penn State University, said in a written news release.
If Penn State Extension programs fold, it will cause the elimination of 1,100 positions statewide, impact 92,000 members and 9,500 volunteers, according to a study by the College of Agricultural Sciences. Phone calls to Penn State Extension 4-H educator and urban forester were not returned.
“The impacts would be numerous,” Gill said.
Workshops around the state to aid farmers and gardeners, as well as educating the public on green industry alternatives, agricultural advancements and educational programs about land use, would cease, he said.
“The truth is these programs serve every consumer in the state,” Keith Eckel, a Penn State trustee, said in a written news release. “It is critically important that (the loss of these programs) does not happen.”
Fighting back, the Penn State Agricultural Council launched a petition that has gained over 13,000 supporters to-date. The petition, available at http://bty.link/2m0, is designed to urge legislators to reinstate the land script fund to the state budgets.
“The dedicated faculty, staff, researchers and educators whose positions are at risk play a vital role in helping our state’s single largest industry to compete on a national scale,” Barron said.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews