Editor's note: The article below contains a misunderstanding on the part of another news source regarding Dr. Fear's address. Michigan State University is neither dismantling nor discontinuing its Extension service. MSU Extension remains an integral and thriving part of the university's outreach efforts. It is currently reorganizing its programs in an effort to remain responsive to the needs of Michigan's communities, families, agriculture and natural resources sectors. To learn more about its new focus, visit www.msue.msu.edu.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Lancaster Farming) -- Dr. Frank Fear is preparing for something he never dreamed could happen: the end of his university's cooperative extension service.
The senior associate dean of agriculture and natural resources at Michigan State addressed Grange members last week at the 143rd National Grange Session.
Throughout his speech, Fear reflected on the challenges facing state governments as they struggle to balance budgets. Fear said that a 44-percent budget cut is forcing Michigan State to end its extension programs.
"When the university president called, I at first thought he said 4 percent or even 14 percent, but no, it was 44 percent," Fear said of the cuts set to got into effect next year.
"I never thought in my life ... that I would be putting together a dismantling plan for extension," he said. Extension has funding through next October, because of stimulus money, but if the situation remains unchanged, as of Oct. 1, 2010, the program will end.
The cuts were coming as a result of the declining income base from unemployment and the devaluation of property. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate.
While America has changed, agriculture is still its core industry, Fear said. In economically ravaged Michigan, he said, agriculture is the only industry that has been growing in double digits.
Michigan State Extension programs are focused on building regional food systems, fostering innovations, providing expertise in a private/public partnerships and enhancing community practices for energy efficiencies.
"Will rural America be left behind?" he asked. "Will small towns, farms and places that have spawned so many things that have made this country great be left behind?"
A crucial question is, if the funding impasse can't be overcome and extensions closes, will the university have the ability to reopen it?
Fear said leaders must understand the responsibility they have to keep agriculture and small towns vital. He also warned that "if it can happen in Michigan, it can happen somewhere else."
Fear spoke of the important role the Grange has played in rural America. The land-grant college system established in 1855 and the Grange established in 1867 are "tied together and dedicated to rural America and its people," he said. "We inherited the legacy. Now it is our responsibility to sustain it."
Tying in the meaning of the word "grange" as an old English farm, Fear said that the National Grange is working to cultivate an American culture, in addition to advocating for agriculture.
"We need the Grange," he declared. "The Grange can make sure that rural America is not left out when priorities are being set."