For 125 years the AgCenter has provided farmers and rural residents everything from research that improves crop production to tips on how to raise rabbits. While many farm kids grew up with 4-H, many urban children got their first glimpse of agriculture raising rabbits and chickens through that same program. Those lessons, provided by dedicated, well-trained 4-H agents gave kids their first shot at responsibility, while teaching valuable life skills as well.
I can’t tell you how valuable the AgCenter has been to my operation. Over the years the flow of technology, personnel and general good will has been essential to our local farming community. But now the AgCenter is under attack and like everything else these days, the assault is being fueled by fewer and fewer dollars.
Of course it always comes down to money, whatever “it” happens to be. But now state and federal budget cuts threaten many of the programs the AgCenter is known for. The result could be catastrophic, not only to rural Louisiana , but to the entire state.
It goes without saying that the LSU AgCenter is of critical importance to the economic well-being of Louisiana agriculture. The research conducted by AgCenter scientists provides farmers and ranchers with new crop and animal varieties adapted to Louisiana ’s unique growing conditions. Additionally this research provides farmers effective programs to manage diseases and pests, while improving production practices to grow food, forest, and fiber products as economically and environmentally friendly as possible.
LSU Cooperative Extension Service personnel help deliver this research to farmers and others, while working with young people through 4-H, the Future Farmers of America and other statewide youth organizations. While these programs are highly effective, they now are threatened by the continued erosion of state financial support.
Since 2008 the LSU AgCenter’s state budget support has been cut by 21 percent, a total of $19.5 million. During this same time mandated costs such as health insurance, retirement and risk management insurance premiums have increased 12 percent or $11.2 million. There have been no increases in funding to offset these reoccurring expenses.
With these costs combined, the AgCenter has sustained a net loss of support of 33 percent or $30.7 million between 2008 and 2012. The AgCenter’s operating budget is made up primarily of personnel costs and as a result 314 full-time equivalent positions, or 25 percent of the total, have been lost. Do date three research stations have been closed.
The LSU AgCenter has put forth a business plan to deal with the reduced level of state funding, which calls for further reductions in research and extension personnel, as well as the closing or consolidation of additional research stations. The AgCenter has no student tuition or other fees to draw upon to offset its budget woes and has few means to generate additional revenues. The federal research and extension budget also is being cut. Competition for project grants is stiff and usually requires matching funds.
Louisiana agriculture must unite to support the LSU AgCenter. Supporters have formed the Louisiana AgCoalition, a statewide group promoting and emphasizing the importance of agricultural research and extension, while representing 4-H, statewide ag industries, growers and consumers. The organization is dedicated to ensuring the continued growth and sustainability of agriculture here in Louisiana for future generations.
If you would like to become part of the Louisiana AgCoalition, you may join by visiting its Web site at: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/administration/about_us/chancellors_office/Ag_Coalition/ The Web site also has educational information available on the AgCenter’s budget history and its business plan.
We would also urge you to contact members of our state legislature and tell them you support the AgCenter and its role in Louisiana agriculture. The 2012 Regular Session opened last week and runs through June 4. No doubt this issue will be talked about frequently during the next three months. Let your voice be heard. Tell lawmakers the AgCenter and its programs are important to you and all of Louisiana and need to be fully supported.