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District extension officials pushing for more agents in region

POSTED: August 13, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Barrow County currently lacks an extension agent for its residents’ agriculture and natural resource needs, as it had several years ago, but there may be hope of refilling that position.

District extension officials Bobby Smith and Judy Ashley said they are pushing for more state funding in the next fiscal year budget, and their priority will be to fill extension agent positions that have been lost in many counties in the district.

Formerly, Brit West was the county’s extension agent, and Barrow resident Dwight Acey said West was great for the position.

Acey described West, in a recent letter to the editor, as "easy to get along with" and "highly knowledgeable" and said West often made visits to people’s property to assess problems firsthand, in addition to offering weekly gardening classes taught by guest experts.

West left the position at least four years ago, and it has not since been refilled.

Smith, program development coordinator for Georgia’s Northeast District Extension, said this was due to budget cuts in 2008.

That year, Smith said the extension saw a 28 percent cut in state fund appropriations, and due to the reduction, administrators at the time employed a "tier system"—which utilized commercial agriculture information from each county—to determine the client base’s needs in each area.

Ashley, Northeast District Extension director, said that at the time, there was only one position allotted for Barrow County, and it was West’s.

However, the extension office also runs the area’s 4-H Youth Development organization, and Ashley said Barrow’s lower farm gate value (the net value of strictly commercial product when it leaves the farm, minus marketing costs) in comparison to other counties in the district, is what resulted in West’s position being changed to a 4-H position in Barrow.

Ashley said the administrators of the time looked at demographics of school enrollment and other factors to make the decision, and Smith said the conclusion was that Barrow’s client base would better be served through the 4-H position.

Smith added that it wasn’t just Barrow that got shorted an extension position.

"I only have 26 agents covering 39 counties in the northeast district at this time," Smith said. "There’s still a good agriculture base (in Barrow), but when you compare the numbers to other counties in the district, they have stronger numbers."

But Barrow isn’t without hope of ever having an in-county extension agent again.

Smith said when budget talks begin for the next fiscal year—which starts July 1—the priority will be filling some of the extension positions that were lost several years ago.

Ashley said one of the contributing factors to regaining the lost position, following any state funding garnered, will be the financial support of local commission and school boards in the counties.

There’s a minimum county contribution that’s expected by the state in order for the county to be considered for an agent, Ashley said, which is why it’s called a "cooperative" extension—jointly funded by the state and the county.

Smith agreed that county funding plays a significant role, saying that most counties provide their agents with office space, a supply budget, travel expenses and even a portion of their salary.

Even if Barrow’s "facts and figures" ranked the county at the top of the list for an agent, Ashley said, a lack of county support would prevent the regaining of such an agent for the county.

She added that Barrow has been supportive of the extension staff it currently has, and that there are some cases where a county may want an agent but be unable to fund one.

Smith said community support is pivotal, so Barrow residents who wish to have an extension agent for their county should take up their cause with the Barrow Board of Commissioners and Board of Education "to move the program forward and get state dollars in the next budget to fill the position."

Ashley said the county’s farm gate value will still play a role in how any state funds are allocated.

"We’re putting in request for money for those agent positions," Ashley said. "So if that happens, then we start looking at the figures for our priorities as to where we can put the few positions they might give us."

In the meantime, residents of Barrow County can utilize the extension offices of neighboring counties, where Smith said that, while they financially cannot offer site visits to residents of other counties, they can still run digital diagnostic tests to help with problems such as weed identification or product recommendations.

Additionally, a calendar of events can be found at extension.uga.edu, on the right-hand side of the page under "Upcoming Events," detailing classes in the district that can be taken to learn more about gardening, cooking and the like.

The class descriptions will specify who is eligible to attend, whether that be residents in a three-county area or statewide, Smith said.

 

COMMENTS

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2 comments
Hmmm: August 14, 2014 2:25 p.m.

Even if Barrow’s "facts and figures" ranked the county at the top of the list for an agent, Ashley said, a "lack of county support" would prevent the regaining of such an agent for the county.

From a rural county run by an anti commerce / farm gang on the BOC ...

Ever wonder why the county is always last?

Even when all they have to do is ask... "Barrow Board of Commissioners and Board of Education "to move the program forward and get state dollars in the next budget to fill the position."


cpsmith: August 15, 2014 12:33 p.m.

@Hmmm, it's more than just the BOC that is anit-commerce/farm. There is a large segment of the population that is against growth in this community. My first exposure to this was when the community rallied to prevent the airport from expanding to allow commercial operations. I grew up in Clayton County, I know the advantages of having a commercial airport in the community can provide, (yes, it is in Clayton County, not the City of Atlanta or Fulton County). It reduces taxes, increases revenue to the county, provides jobs, and greatly increases economic growth within the county.

However, this community has done alot to prevent companies from expanding operations.



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