The Virginia Cooperative Extension office, which has supported Clarke County landowners and communities for generations, is being positioned for significant cuts under a restructuring plan revealed last October. The plan will reduce the number of local extension agents statewide and threatens the sustainability Clarke County extension programs including 4-H.
“The VCE’s programs have already been partially emasculated” local farmer Bryan Conrad told the Clarke Supervisors last Tuesday. “We’d like to see the program from being completely emasculated.”
Conrad, who owns Windbrook Farm in White Post, presented a letter drafted by the local farming community that he asked the Supervisors to endorse and send to Alan Grant, dean of the College Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and interim director of Virginia Cooperative Extension.
In a recent statement from, Grant said ““Based on the feedback we have received, this timeline needs to be more flexible in order to hold all the necessary conversations. While specific time frames will be determined in the discussions with localities and stakeholders in the coming months, it is clear that the transition to a new structure may not be completed until June 2012.”
Conrad and other VCE program supporters hope to use the temporary transition delay to delay the or reverse the planned cutbacks. The “necessary conversations” described by Grant are required to navigate exactly how the VCE will implement a $5.5 million budget cut mandated from Virginia’s General Assembly in 2009. While the delay allows local farmers and educators time to rally support against the cuts it so far has not resulted in funding being restored for VCE programs.
On Tuesday Conrad said that Clarke County’s farming community supports the decision to slow the timeline for the restructuring of Virginia Cooperative Extension and urged Grant and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Science to communicate with stake holders about this issue.
“The restructuring plan still does not make sense to us” Conrad said ”From our perspective, relatively little money is saved since Clarke County already provides office space and a portion of the Extension Agents’ salaries in our region.”
The letter presented for support by the Supervisors said that the plan is not an appropriate response to the General Assembly mandate for VCE to “give highest priority to programs and services which comprised the original mission of the Extension Service, especially agricultural programs at the local level”. We in Clarke County believe agriculture, 4-H and natural resources at the local level are paramount to the original mission.
Conrad told the supervisors that Virginia Cooperative Extension agents have provided good value to the Clarke County community and that over the years Clarke has been fortunate to keep an ANR agent in Clarke, but the program has suffered since the 4-H agent’s resignation several years ago.
Conrad said that the 4-H program cannot survive with a regional approach. “Our county’s declining number of 4-H’ers and declining program quality support that belief” Conrad said. “We fear agricultural and natural resources in our county will also suffer if approached on a regional basis.”
In the letter Clarke’s farming community requests that VCE continue to staff, in cooperation with Clarke County, the local VCE office with a minimum of an agricultural agent, a 4-H agent and a secretary. The letter also requests that extension agents be accessible in a local office with local support staff to carry out VCE duties.
The letter, which asks Grant to find alternate solutions to the restructuring plan resulting in a full, local Extension presence in Clarke County, is currently under consideration by the Supervisors.