- Author: Wendy Powers
A high point this week is learning that John Bailey was appointed to the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers! The appointment was made by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. This is quite an honor so be sure to congratulate John on this recognition!
I am in Nashville most of the week, attending the annual meeting for Experiment Station and Extension Directors. There are a few other participants as well, but it is primarily the first two groups I mentioned. Monday I spent the day attending an ECOP meeting, as one of the three representatives from the Western region. After checking off the business meeting items, much of the conversation revolved around justifying getting together even annually when we all have much to do back home. Meeting value depends on whether or not we can leverage what we have and get back more than we put in.
Much of what ECOP has addressed over the past few years is a strategy to increase federal support of Cooperative Extension (formula or capacity funds and competitive grant funds). If you aren't familiar with the term 'formula' or 'capacity' funds, these are the funds that likely pay a portion of your salary. The funding source has been a cornerstone of support for Cooperative Extension over the last century. However, costs outpace increases in capacity funds. And, with a pending downturn in the economy, there is a risk. So, how do we position ourselves to mitigate the risk of further erosion of capacity funds? ECOP talked about the fact that Cooperative Extension has not sold our value well enough to justify an increase in funding from Congress. The conversation sounded familiar to me. While a bit reassuring that other states face the same challenges as California, it doesn't change the fact that we all need to act.
Areas that ECOP identified as topics that would resonate well with Congress when faced with an economic downturn included: family financial literacy, health, and well-being, food security. Much like our conversations throughout UC ANR, the idea isn't that we do more in these areas. Instead, we frame our work not as activities but as impacts that highlight how our work makes a difference (changes conditions). ECOP discussed the benefit to all of Cooperative Extension if we increased our capacity funds if only for work related to the above topics. The idea is that all of our programs will benefit as a result of increased resources, even if directed at targeted outcomes. 'A rising tide lifts all boats' was the phrase used by someone in the group. That phrase was familiar, too.
NIFA Director, Scott Angle, met with us Tuesday afternoon. The update was far from uplifting, and I don't envy him. NIFA is down to approximately 50 employees from D.C. who plan to relocate next week plus five already hired in Kansas City. What's odd is that even Director Angle doesn't know the physical work location yet because of a secret bidding process. Director Angle suggested that states focus on increasing state funding and not rely on increased capacity funds. He also spoke about plans to change the formula for capacity funds with winners and losers in the process. It will take a couple of years to get to that point, but I would prefer to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to have it go the other way. Director Angle did mention a proposal to increase capacity funds 5% per year for five years; we will have to watch where that goes. Director Angle declared a need for Cooperative Extension and the Ag Experiment Stations to put forth audacious goals, on the scale of NASA's commitment to put a man on the moon or NIH's intent to curing cancer. Perhaps funding would be more accessible if we clarified that more significant resources are necessary to eradicate hunger.
The conversations these past two days have all the makings of a country music song. There is one more dinner meeting to attend yet tonight followed by two more days of meetings. Who knows how the tune will end.