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Be a squeaky wheel

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By Holly Martin

I served on my local Extension executive board for six years. Every year, we dealt with less money and rising costs. I dreaded the budget meeting every year.

We sat around the table, hoping that we could cut mailing costs for newsletters or cut back on copy costs. We never wanted to say to an agent, “You can’t host that field day for wheat producers because we can’t afford it.” We didn’t want to tell our 4-H and youth agent that her day camp program was off the table.

We were fortunate. Prior boards had done a good job of keeping a “rainy day fund.” That fund kept us going in years where there simply wasn’t enough money. But that fund continues to be depleted. And now a round of state-level budget cuts could potentially make those tough decisions even tougher.

The Kansas House and Senate conference committee has proposed a budget cut of 1.5 percent this year and another cut of 1.5 percent next year to higher education, which includes K-State Research and Extension. It also includes a “salary cap lapse” which means that any current open position is cut and will no longer be hired. There’s no freeze here—this means the position is eliminated. The result is approximately 8 percent of the budget. That, combined with the 1.5 percent cut, means the K-State Extension budget will be reduced by nearly 10 percent—in one year. Dean of College of Agriculture and Director of K-State Research and Extension John Floros says that kind of cut means 100 to 120 fewer Extension professionals.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a deep, deep cut in an area that supports growing the economy. Already, K-State Extension takes every dollar the state legislature invests and finds other dollar or two of funding. “What you are really doing is cutting our ability to go out there and compete for more money,” Floros said in an interview with WIBW radio.

What are these legislators thinking? Kansas is an agricultural state. Our economy thrives on the ability of our farmers and ranchers to be on the cutting edge of their industry. Cutting research means cutting our potential.

The cold, hard truth is that we have cut spending. But the fact of the matter is that you can’t save your way to prosperity. There must be a balance.

The Kansas Extension program is about as lean as it can possibly get and still maintain the level of services that we expect.

And perhaps that is the problem. K-State Extension operates quietly in the background, as it has done for nearly 100 years. The research might make headlines in this publication, but it doesn’t in the Wichita Eagle or Topeka Capital-Journal.

While K-State Research and Extension plays a huge role in my life—from providing unbiased solid agriculture information for my job or provide leadership training for my children—others don’t see that name often enough.

They don’t know that it is our local Family and Consumer Science agent who teaches the ServSafe program for restaurant workers. The fact that the teenager working at the fast food joint washed his hands after handling raw meat and before dishing up your already-cooked fries is thanks to Extension. That “in the background” education prevented foodborne illness. Who will deliver that education now? I don’t know.

They don’t know that our local agricultural and youth agents teach tractor safety courses that prevent many deaths in rural Kansas every year. Who will deliver that education now? I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know: I know the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be as squeaky as you can. And for readers in other states, take note. Make sure that you voice your support for your state’s Research and Extension programs or soon you too could have a vital program in your state threatened.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 6/3/2013



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