Counties may get Extension agents

Published 10:39 am Saturday, March 27, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—Despite millions in budget reductions facing Virginia Cooperative Extension, there is a push to give Southampton and Isle of Wight counties something they haven’t had in a while — an extension agent.

“I’m optimistic that I will be able to bring an agent of some sort. I can’t give you a timeframe,” said Lonnie Johnson, VCE’s Southeast District director.

He told the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that the two counties came up in a recent conversation with the Virginia Tech dean in charge of the VCE.

“We spoke specifically about Isle of Wight and Southampton and the real need to provide an agent down here,” he said. “Isle of Wight is in the top 20 of agriculture production in the state of Virginia, and you deserve an Extension agent.”

Extension agents work closely with farmers and help run educational programs for youth. Not having an agent has put some farmers — and those wanting to start or continue 4-H programs — in a bind.

Johnson said the VCE has been holding positions vacant for about 18 months.

“And that has a severe impact here in Isle of Wight and Southampton together, where the offices have been vacant for an extended period of time,” he said.

Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said VCE is looking at a plan that would allow the two counties to share Extension agents — one Agriculture and Natural Resources position and one 4-H position. One agent would be physically be located in each but would serve both counties.

“We would share the one-third local funding responsibility,” he said.

On three different occasions, Lonnie Johnson said, the VCE has tried to fill a position for the counties. The most recent attempt was an internal transfer program that closed last week with no applicants for either county.

VCE is expecting a base budget reduction of $1.1 million for fiscal year 2011 and a $5.5 million reduction in 2012, but it could have been worse, Lonnie Johnson said.

“The 2012 budget reduction represents about 8.7 percent, which is a far cry better than the 15 percent that we were anticipating,” he said.

Lonnie Johnson said VCE is in the process of restructuring. He was required to submit a strategic plan for approval. If given the OK, the plan is to be implemented by July 1, 2012.

“Four agents in these two counties is in my plan,” he said. “I can’t guarantee it’ll pass.”

The plan, Lonnie Johnson said, focuses on agriculture and 4-H youth development.

“I’m hoping that I’ll have good news here soon,” he said.