Dramatic decrease in number of advisors in the last 20 years
By TIM HEARDEN
HAT CREEK, Calif. -- The head of the University of California Cooperative Extension wants to replenish its team of local farm advisors, despite seemingly relentless budget cuts.
The program that provides agricultural research and advice to producers of all types has gone from about 500 advisors in the 1980s to just 225 today, said Dan Dooley, the UC system's vice president in charge of agriculture and natural resources.
Dooley's goal is to bring that number back up to 300 advisors, he said.
"We really believe we've got to restore the capacities of our cooperative extension programs," Dooley said during a recent joint meeting of local Farm Bureau and cattlemen's organizations.
Seemingly on the chopping block every year, the cooperative extension service weathered a 20 percent state budget reduction in fiscal 2009-2010 by restructuring its administration, Dooley said.
"We didn't sacrifice a single advisor or specialist," he said.
In the current fiscal year, extension has plans to fill between 20 and 30 new positions, Dooley said.
Part of the solution may involve joint-funding agreements with counties, whose support for the extension service may drop from a high of nearly $15 million to between $10 million and $11 million this year, he said.
The extension is talking with the California State Association of Counties about promoting agreements to share certain administrative costs with cash-strapped counties, saving both entities money while employing more farm advisors, Dooley said.
The need for vibrant agricultural industries will only intensify as the population increases, said Don Klingborg, who leads the extension's advocacy and county programs.
"One of the things I'm reminded of is that by 2050 we're going to need twice as much food as we need today," Klingborg said. "The challenge is, how do we prepare ourselves today?"
Dooley, a Visalia water lawyer and farmer, was hired in late 2007 to head the UC's statewide agricultural and natural resources programs.
The division includes a research station and three campus offices as well as more than 50 regional and county offices throughout the state. Its budget of more than $200 million comes from various sources, including counties and the state.
Dooley said he received help from the extension service as a farmer and wanted to be an advocate for the programs as vice president. He said ag programs typically endure disproportionate reductions during budget shortfalls, and now the extension service's allocations are proportionate with campuses.
"I've been mostly on your side of the university for many years, both as a farmer and a water lawyer," he told local farmers. "My purpose in coming to the university was to speak loudly in favor of the programs."