Future of Cooperative Extension offices to be decided by April

Published 11:09 am Thursday, December 23, 2010

COURTLAND—More answers are expected to be available by April for the future of Virginia Cooperative Extension offices, including those serving farmers in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

In a report to Southampton County Board of Supervisors — who for 15 months went without an agriculture extension agent for the county — County Administrator Michael Johnson noted “a strong local presence by Virginia Cooperative Extension will cost us substantially more in the future.”

The extension office is funded equally by the federal, state and county government, Johnson explained.

“On the local level, we have always maintained our one-third share,” he said.

When extension agent Wes Alexander retired on March 1, 2009, he was not replaced because of state cutbacks and a hiring freeze, Johnson said.

“We kept talking to them, telling them we needed a presence,” he said. “We are one of the largest agricultural counties in the Commonwealth.”

After the state did some restructuring, Neil Clark was brought board on July 1.

The state on Oct. 7 announced a blueprint for moving forward with plans to reorganize the agency, Johnson reported to County Supervisors. In the 2010 budget bill, $5.5 million was eliminated for the agency and their administration was told to restructure and consolidate offices.

There are 200 extension agents and 100 support staff in Virginia in addition to 80 more specialists that work in Blacksburg and the Agricultural Research Stations.

Johnson told supervisors he understands that the agency intends to migrate to a new business model with extension agents clustered around a business center that serves a three- to five-county area.

Discussions on the plan are expected to be completed by April. Until then, no extension offices will close and no jobs will be eliminated.