County 4-H Program on Budget Chopping Block

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.

Comments

  1. concerned says:

    The funding equation for the Extension office is much more complicated than asking Extension to fund three positions. In the office currently you have an Extension assistant who is fully funded by Extension, you have a half day assistant who is fully funded by the county, and you have a combination Ag/4-H Agent who is funded by our county, any other county he serves, and Extension. Where Extension plans on saving a huge amount of money is by setting up a regional office with an agent from each genre that is needed and one Extension funded assistant. That would mean one Extension funded assistant salary per 5 counties which would eliminate over a million dollars per year from the Extension Budget. I do agree that each county should exist individually as much as possible, but this can only be done if each county honestly represents its needs so they can be met. A Board report is sent to the supervisors monthly letting them know what duties those in the Extension office have executed in the past month. This would be an excellent tool to use. As far as the 4-H program suffering in the last several years, I strongly disagree. We hold steady at almost the same amount of enrollment each year, we have a strong Leaders Association which this year alone has put almost $6000 into assisting the 4-H members, and we have one of the strongest livestock areas at our fair. The 4-H program in Clarke County is strong, and would appreciate being asked what they think they may need, rather than told……

    • The letter that was read was from the Clarke County Farm Bureau with consultation from several people who are intimately involved in 4H in Clarke County. It attempts to express the hope of MORE support for several extremely valuable programs of which 4H is only one.

  2. I would love to know which members of Farm Bureau are intimately involved with 4-H. I know several have children in 4-H, but I have seen none of them at the meetings where the County 4-H volunteers are actively dealing with this situation and the day to day ramifications of Extension’s decisions. The Farm Bureau did the same thing with the FFA program at the high school this summer, expressed their opinion of what was needed bases on the input of their “active FFA supporters” to then find out their idea was not what the majority of actual members wanted. Kudos to Farm Bureau for trying to do the right thing, but it is sooo much better if you do it without trying to belittle a program that has gotten better in the last several years. I understand the above article is the opinion of Farm Bureau, but when I have a problem with my eyes, I seek an optometrists opinion not a dentists. Just because they are both in the medical field does not mean they have the best knowledge of all parts.

  3. I am a supporter of 4-H, love the program, had children in it. I don’t understand, why we need to use tax payers money to provide this program. The county does not provide office space and partial salary for those organizing children in the Dance program, the county sports programs, the band programs etc. Now please understand that I do understand the extension office is more than 4-H…. but in this economy… I think we need to look at this expense.

    • concerned says:

      4-H is an Extension program because the USDA made it so years ago when they found that younger adults were most likely to open their minds to the knowledge provided than the older farmers. The state receives funding from the USDA, donates some to it, and then the county does the same…..when the program began this was an excellent way of ensuring each county had a knowledge base for the current farmers, a way to educate future farmers, and they used to offer a lot of home economics types of programs. It truly would be an excellent time to step back and decide what Clarke County is really looking for from extension on all levels, and then ask for funding.

  4. I am a supporter of 4-H and all that the Extension Service has to offer. [redacted] I think we need to look at this expense. The other Extension Office full-time secretarial assistant is professional and couteous, and is committed to doing her job well. I agree that the local VCE office should be staffed with a qualified agricultural agent, a qualified 4-H agent and one qualified secretary.

    • Concerned says:

      And do you agree that the Supervisors should put out the additional at least 20,000 dollars from the County budget for that 4-H agent that we haven’t put out in 3 years and the additional over 30,000 for the full time assistant that the County has never paid for? Why not have the supervisors look over the board reports and let us know what they think and then have the Ag representatives and 4-H representatives work with them to find the best solution. The last time Extension asked for our opinions they sent an email with questions chosen by them to be answered, not much of a way to exress any opinions different from theirs there, huh?

  5. greenhouse supporter says:

    I would first like to commend ALL of the Clarke County Extension office staff for their contributions to the 4-H program. Even without a dedicated 4-H agent the last several years, the 4-H program has remained strong. The true success of the 4-H program in Clarke County is the result of several factors. One, the many volunteer leaders who give countless hours of their time to the program, two, the businesses and citizens in the community that support the program and, three, the parents who support their children and the program as a whole. As long as these three important entities are in existence in Clarke County, the 4-H program will remain strong. Most of the parents and leaders involved are former 4-H members themselves and believe in the importance of 4-H in young people’s lives. It plays an important role in the community as well. Clarke County 4-H members provide numerous services to their community. The various clubs are active with our senior citizens, provide food and gifts at Christmas for the less fortunate and donate to the Heifer Project that is a worldwide effort. I do not think the community as a whole is completely aware of what 4-H is about. The young people are not just future farmers that raise animals. After school programs are also offered. In a county that has very little to offer the youth for entertainment it provides an outlet for many. There are currently over 150 young people enrolled in 4-H in Clarke County, hardly the waning numbers as mentioned above. As far as the future of Extensions role in the county, that is yet to be seen. Perhaps the Clarke County Farm Bureau can assist the area farmers to create a volunteer agricultural board to address their specific concerns, should the extension office be unable to meet their needs.

  6. The Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia Tech has suspended the current restructuring plan, that would possibly have taken the Unit Administrative Assistant out of the Clarke County Office, and made Clarke responsible for solely funding any additional agents or staff that they would have in their office other than the one 4H or Ag agent that they would choose to co-fund with the state. Hopefully this step back will mean that we will have a better shot at having a fully staffed extension office, unfortunately it also means that it will be that much longer before we find out what the future of extension is.

  7. Concerned says:

    Better to wait and have the job done well this time, then move forward and have an extension office set up that did not suit the needs of our county. Dr. Grant also shared in his letter that the main reason the process was ended was input from the stakeholders indicating their decision were not appreciated. One of the more interesting points was the fact that Virginia Tech had paid attention to the fact that we were questioning their dedication to the Extension program. Kudos to those who spoke out honestly rather than play the “we trust blindly that Virginia Tech knows what is best for us” game.