SALEM — Oregon State University is poised to hire new agricultural research and extension employees with a $14 million funding increase recently passed by the Oregon legislature.
The hike is part of broader higher education legislation, House Bill 5024, that’s won approval in the House and Senate by strong margins but still awaits Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.
If HB 5024 is enacted, it will result in the first meaningful expansion of OSU’s extension service in many years, said Scott Reed, vice president of university outreach and engagement.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said.
With inflation and increasing costs, the extension service has lost two positions a year on average since 2000, he said.
Of the $14 million in additional funding, about 31 percent is slated for the extension service, 44 percent for the university’s agricultural experiment stations and 25 percent for its forest research laboratory.
Total funding for the three programs is set at $118.5 million under the bill.
The extension service has numerous unfilled positions that are being considered for funding, such as agents specializing in livestock, dairy, pollinators, forestry, nutrient management, watershed research and sage grouse recovery, Reed said.
“We have not yet pulled the trigger on which positions to fill,” he said, adding that administrators would wait until the bill is approved by the full Legislature.
Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said it’s premature to discuss the experiment station positions that would be filled due to the funding increase.
However, the university does plan to hire field and laboratory technicians dedicated to pollinator research if HB 5024 becomes law, he said.
At the beginning of the legislative session, OSU asked for $16 million in additional funding for the three programs, Arp said.
The university won’t be able to fill all 40 positions that would have been possible with that level of funding, but it’s nonetheless grateful for the support of lawmakers, he said.
“That’s a glass that’s 88 percent full,” Arp said. “It’s really great news.”
While the details about specific positions remain murky, the university has identified five priority areas for hiring:
• Sustainable management of working landscapes: This category is of most significance for farmers and ranchers, as these positions would focus on helping landowners with on-the-ground problems facing agriculture.
• Promoting public health, food safety and security: Apart from food safety issues, these positions may also support the “community food systems” of local farms and market channels, as well as breeding efforts.
• Ensuring water quality and quantity: These positions would assist with farm and forest practices that improve water quality and managing basins to improve water availability.
• Technologies for business development and value-added manufacturing: Food processing and forest products would benefit from these positions, which are meant to help develop new technologies that create jobs in rural communities.
• Educating the workforce of tomorrow: “Youth development” of pre-college students through real world learning experiences is the focus of this area.