By Rick Ebert, Times Guest Columnist
I can hear my father’s words quite plainly today. When explaining to me the difference between cost and value, he’d say what I’m sure many of us have heard before: “You get what you pay for.” So the recent announcement by Penn State President Eric Barron that our land grant university might be forced to shutter the doors of extension offices in all 67 counties shouldn’t really surprise us.
Eight months into the fiscal year, the commonwealth has not made a single payment to Penn State Extension, for the multitude of service they provide to ensure food safety and enhance plant and animal health.
After vetoing two previous budget proposals last year, the governor decided to line-item veto the Legislature’s third proposal, in order to disperse some public funds to keep public schools and human services functioning. As a result of the line-item veto, funding for PSU Cooperative Extension and Research, along with other agricultural priorities, have been zeroed out of the existing state spending plan that was supposed to run from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
But the hard-working men and women of Penn State Extension, and the value they provide to farm families, consumers and more than 90,000 4-H youth across the state, should not be used as leverage in a political “game of chicken.” Penn State Extension’s true impact is impossible to measure. But what our land grant university does for farm families – and the entire community – is a value we can’t afford to lose.
Over the past eight months, I’ve been engaged in many conversations with lawmakers and cabinet officials about this issue. And it seems to me that all sides – Republicans and Democrats, legislators and members of the administration – agree that Penn State Extension plays a vitally important and necessary role in protecting the safety of food, plants, animals and humans in our state.
It’s also evident to me that all sides in this multi-lateral negotiation believe the cost of Penn State Extension – little more than one-tenth of one percent of the entire state budget – is well worth the state’s investment. Farm Bureau does acknowledge the previous actions by the legislature to include funding for Penn State Extension in budget legislation, but unfortunately, there is nothing yet to celebrate. No reason to applaud.
As most of us in agriculture know, Penn State began as the “Farmers’ High School,” and its charge was to apply scientific principles to farming. But, if the legislative and executive branches of our state government are unable to come together – soon – to solve the budget crisis for Penn State Extension and Research, Pennsylvania may very well become the FIRST state in the nation to lose our Land Grant University!
I don’t use these words lightly. Without state funding for Extension, which is used to attract twice as much funding from federal sources, not only is Penn State Extension at risk of closing its doors, but the entire College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State faces a bleak future.
I refuse to accept this as an acceptable outcome, and hope that farm families across the state share in my outrage.
Agriculture is constantly facing a variety of challenges beyond our control, such as volatile market prices, overzealous regulations and devastating weather conditions. Losing our land grant because of politics is preventable. Farmers can make a difference and influence this outcome. Our elected officials – all of them – must take swift action preventing the closure of Extension offices and the furlough of Extension agents in all 67 counties.
Whether you’re a Farm Bureau member of not, I encourage you to go to www.pfb.com/actnow where a draft message is ready for you to send to your state representative, your state senator and the governor.
Help us Save PSU ag!
Rick Ebert is president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, located in Camp Hill.