Faced with a total 10 percent budget cut from the last two state legislative sessions, the Oklahoma Extension Service and Experiment Station continue to fulfill their missions as best they can by consolidating, streamlining and pinching pennies as hard as possible.

Dave Foster, associate director of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, says Oklahoma's legislators have “supported Research and Extension where they could. We probably came out better than other segments of Oklahoma's higher education programs.”

But, where on-campus programs may benefit from higher tuition, Research and Extension do not. “Just about every state in the country is looking at tuition increase to plug some of the budget cuts,” Foster says.

Foster, discussed budget concerns with Southwest Farm Press at the annual Lane Agriculture Center Field Day in Lane, Oklahoma.

State legislators cut Oklahoma's Research and Extension budget by 1 percent last year and clipped another 8.99 percent off in the 2003 session.

Foster says cuts challenge administrators to keep valuable employees from moving into industry.

“It's always been hard to retain skilled professionals,” he says. “The Extension Service provides a good training ground for industry. Employees get such good experience and knowledge of farm production they become very attractive to industry. There is a high demand for them.”

And with budget cuts, he says, raises are hard to deliver.

‘Making adjustments’

“But we're making adjustments. For one thing, we're trying to integrate our applied research programs with Extension so we can get information to farmers quickly. In some areas, we already do an excellent job of meshing applied research with Extension's delivery service. In other areas, we need to improve.”

Foster said Research and Extension are looking “for efficiencies across the board. We're examining administration and consolidating as much as possible instead of spreading duties throughout the ranks.”

Foster says the Oklahoma State University College of Agriculture will “prioritize and identify what's most important to the state. We will determine which enterprises are the state's bread and butter. And we'll continue to work with economic development as much as possible.”

Claude Bess, Extension director for the 19 counties in the Southeastern corner of the state, says early retirements will take up some of the budget cuts. “We'll hold those positions open for as long as we can and cover the vacancies with area specialists.

“We'll do as much as we can with fewer people. And we'll find as many efficiencies as we can.”

Foster said a team approach will be crucial as the Extension Service serves its clientele with fewer dollars. “Research Centers and Extension will work together to cover an area.”

“A team approach will complement what we've always tried to do in the past,” Bess says.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com