Oregon State University will be seeking an additional $30 million for agricultural research, Extension and its forest laboratory next year, representing a 25 percent boost over the current biennium.
About $14.4 million would be used to restore 15 positions lost due to recession-era budget cuts, while $15.6 million would be dedicated to new positions.
“We still have not ever really rebuilt,” said Bill Boggess, executive associate dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
It’s likely OSU’s Extension Service would receive 53.3 percent of the money, its Agricultural Experiment Stations would receive 38.5 percent and its Forest Research Laboratory would receive 8.2 percent, which is the current split among the institutions.
The university’s statewide public service programs got a $14 million budget increase during the 2015-17 biennium, but its $124.4 million budget in the current biennium fell 3 percent short of keeping pace with the rising cost of wages and benefits.
University leaders are optimistic about the state’s positive revenue forecast and note that Oregon’s seven public universities — which are funded separately from research, Extension and the forest lab — have also asked for a 25 percent budget boost.
“We’re symmetric with that increase,” Boggess said.
Exactly which positions would be funded with the $30 million has yet to be decided, with OSU seeking input from commodity crop commissions and others who benefit from the statewide programs.
“We’re in active discussions now with stakeholders,” said Scott Reed, director of OSU’s Extension Service.
Agricultural groups and other supporters will likely help OSU leaders lobby lawmakers to approve the sizable funding increase, which is expected to be vetted by the education or natural resources subcommittees of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means during the 2019 legislative session.
“The statewides enjoy a very high level of confidence statewide,” Reed said.
With many newly-elected lawmakers beginning their terms next year, it’s imperative to inform them about the critical role that OSU’s services perform in supporting natural resource industries, said Boggess.
“Educating new legislators is a non-stop challenge,” he said. “We’ve had good support from both sides of the aisle. The bigger challenge is there are a lot of new faces, period.”
While it’s to early to specify exact positions, OSU plans to invest the $30 million in three basic categories:
• Natural resources science and stewardship, which would focus on building resilience to fires, water quality and otherwise protecting exosystems and working landscapes.
• Sustainable agricultural, food and natural resource production, which would focus on improving productivity, developing new products and gaining better access to markets.
• Community health and resilience, which would focus on workforce development, mental health issues, and alleviating social problems such as poverty and low graduation rates.
These services are more broadly intended to create connections and bridge some of the divisions in the state between urban and rural populations, Reed said.
“We’re advancing toward one Oregon, and it’s all about the interdependence,” he said.