Last week, Curtis Thompson retired from a distinguished career as an Extension weed specialist at Kansas State University. Thompson specialized in weed control in grain sorghum and corn, and had spent much of the latter part of his career working on herbicide-resistant kochia and palmer amaranth.

He’d spent a total of 25 years in Kansas, the last 10 at the main campus in Manhattan. His position is not expected to be filled.

A month ago, southeast area Extension agronomist Doug Shoup resigned his position to pursue a farming and consulting career. Shoup spent a decade at his job, and his position is not expected to be filled.

Last month, Bill Reid—who led K-State’s Research and Extension efforts in pecan production, retired. His position will not be filled; in fact, the Pecan Experiment Field near Chetopa will be sold, most likely to a private owner.

In June, Kansas State University announced its intent to close the John C. Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville, as part of $3.5 million in cuts to the College of Agriculture’s Research and Extension budget.

Tight budgets have many casualties, and these are just a few.

In the last 10 years, the K-State Research and Extension budget has been slashed 16 percent, from $55.1 million to $46.4 million. That budget includes all county Extension offices, 4-H programs, area Extension and Research programs and all the work on campus. Reduced allocations from the Kansas Legislature are largely to blame for the budget cuts. Federal funds also are drying up.

A century of progress

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act into law in 1862. It established land-grant universities, the purpose of which was to teach information related to agriculture and the mechanical arts. K-State was the first university created under the land-grant program, opening on Sept. 2, 1863.

In 1887, Congress created the framework for agriculture experiment stations nationwide; in 1914 the Cooperative Extension program was started, delivering education to nearly every county across the nation.

The foresight shown by Congress more than a century ago in establishing these programs is one big reason why America became a superpower. In September 2013, “The Economist” had this to say about Extension: From the start the plan was to convert Old World homesteaders to the scientific ways of the New World. As the system developed, Congress sent county agents from universities to teach menfolk modern farming and their wives such skills as tomato canning. In the 1920s educational trains trundled through the prairies, pulling boxcars of animals and demonstration crops. At each stop, hundreds would gather for public lectures. Older folk resisted such newfangled ideas as planting hybrid corn bought from merchants rather than seed corn from their own harvests. Enter the 4-H movement, which gave youngsters hybrid seeds to plant, then waited for the shock as children’s corn outgrew their parents’. Later, youngsters promoted such innovations as computers.

Consequences of cuts

Which brings us to the shrinking budgets of today’s Extension service, which for years have endured cuts. Any fat in the budget was trimmed long ago; these cuts are well into the muscle that’s made K-State a premier land-grant university.

The folks and programs mentioned at the beginning of this column have done great work, dealing with weeds that are becoming an overwhelming challenge, helping farmers develop profitable crop rotations, add value with orchard crops and improve value of homes and businesses with landscaping and horticulture. They are joined by hundreds of people who endeavor to research new and improved methodology, the results of which are shared with all Kansans. It is the source of a tremendous amount of non-biased data that supports the agriculture industry. Is Research and Extension perfect? No.

But it’s a darn site better than the alternative, which is no Research and Extension at all.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or bspiegel@hpj.com.

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