Growers and rural communities are being alerted to budget cuts made by the House that will affect Extension programs and agricultural research. Last week, the House passed a continuing resolution for the 2011 fiscal year that included a $217 million cut for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Smith-Lever funds – used, among other things, to run 4-H clubs – were cut by $30 million.

The Senate is expected to debate the House’s continuing resolution soon.

The cuts would be difficult enough for land-grant universities and Extension to absorb but are doubly frustrating for officials because of their timing. Adding to the pressure: coming halfway through the fiscal year, the cut to programs (approximately 10 percent) must be made over six months instead of a full year.

On Tuesday, Delta Farm Press spoke with Paul Coreil at the LSU AgCenter about the budget cuts. Coreil, Vice Chancellor and Director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, said Congress needs to understand the full impact such cuts will have. Among his comments:

How will this affect the AgCenter, Extension and university research?

“It isn’t a very complicated issue. We’re in the middle of a fiscal year and all the money has been allocated. All the federal funds I get for Extension are in salaries for agents and specialists that are in the field, working today.

“We’ve got to cut 10 percent from there. I don’t know where we’ll get it.

“This was an unexpected mid-year cut. Here we are getting ready for the growing season and we have specialists and agents working with growers – and their salaries are dependent on the federal funds. How do you manage that when you have people hired out in the community working with farmers?

“These are formula funds that we’ve been getting and rely on – they’re recurring. If the cuts have to come, we need time to consider how to implement them. There’s no trick-bag to use when there are people already getting paid those funds. It isn’t like there’s money sitting in a drawer here that I can just send back and say ‘the cut has been made.’

“We work with farmers, ranchers and 4-H programs for kids all over this state. These salary dollars are important. State funds have already been cut drastically and the federal funds are critical.

“And if cuts must be made, they need to be made in a way that makes sense. We don’t need to be sitting here wondering how in the world we’ll send money back after it’s already been dedicated and allocated.”

Can you explain why this came down mid-fiscal year?

“You have to ask congressional membership that question.

“But for a manager trying to run a quality program to help producers and communities, it causes quite a shock to the system. Everyone is starting to understand these cuts will have an immediate impact and the options we have are limited.

“We must work very closely with the congressional delegation so they understand the consequences of this type of a mid-year reduction. We’ve already made commitments.

“The ‘why’ of this, is something I can’t answer. But I can tell you about the consequences. That’s why there’s so much turmoil and concern regarding the timing and lack of planning we’re being provided.”

Where is the pressure to cut mostly coming from?

“From what I read, this is largely a result of the November election and changes that took place in Congress. Regardless of party, though, the message to them is the same: this will have an impact on parishes in Louisiana and other states’ counties that have strong Extension programs.

“The federal funds for Smith-Lever are what we stand on to get matches from our state legislature and local government. We get significant support from the county governments for these offices.

“Everyone needs to step up and do their part – federal, state and local. Of those three legs of the stool, if one makes massive reductions mid-year it shakes everything up. We have a lot of local and state elected officials that are very concerned about this. There’s only around six months left in the fiscal year and the dollars have been dedicated.”