A great big ax is hanging over the University of Georgia. And everyone is watching to see who and what will face the cut.
Of course, Madison County’s extension service and 4-H programs could face the chopping block if the state government follows through on a proposed $300 million in cuts proposed by the Board of Regents. Agriculture programs are among the hardest hit in the proposal, with the total elimination of 4-H suggested, along with the termination of 94 extension agent positions.
Madison County Cooperative Extension Agent Carl Varnadoe said the recent revelation that 4-H and extension services could be eliminated was a tough thing to take.
“Obviously there was shock, and oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?” said Varnadoe.
The extension agent, who now serves in a part-time capacity after serving as the county’s full-time coordinator for many years, said he has seen bad state budget situations before, such as in the mid 1980s and 1991. But this year is obviously worse. He said cuts are inevitable, but he felt ag services were unfairly targeted.
“The state of Georgia is broke,” said Varnadoe. “And so the cuts have to come. Our whole take basically was we’re willing to take our cuts, but the way it was written, we were taking 20 percent of the university’s cuts and we only make up seven percent of the budget. That sounds wrong just to start from.”
Varnadoe said he also felt extension and 4-H could have been consulted about the proposed cuts prior to the submission to the state.
“They didn’t come to us prior to presenting this to the legislators and say ‘where can you cut,’” said Varnadoe. “They didn’t give us that opportunity. And to me, that’s wrong. They should have said ‘you need to cut 20 percent, go find it.’ We could have argued that that’s too much for us, but at least we would have been able to decide where the cuts come from, not just axe an entire program.”
While the proposed elimination of 4-H and extension services is still on the table, it’s far from a done deal. The governor said the proposed cuts were untenable.
Varnadoe said Madison County’s legislators have also been supportive.
“North Georgia legislators have been extremely vocal about how important extension is,” said Varnadoe. “It’s kind of like preaching to the choir with all three of our legislators.”
Varnadoe said has been very appreciative of the “groundswell of support” that extension and 4-H have received in the county and statewide since the cuts were proposed.
“I’ve had parents of kids who graduate from our program years ago contact us and say we support you, we’re contacting people,” said Varnadoe. “It’s just been tremendous. It makes you feel good, makes you feel important, makes you feel wanted. And that’s good, because we feel like we’re doing good work here and I think that’s being recognized now. Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to get those folks to rise up, but they certainly have done that. And it’s been tremendous.”
Varnadoe said his staff continues to work hard.
“We’ve to keep morale up,” he said. “We’ve got to keep doing our job. We’ve got to keep doing what we do every day to prove we are valuable and need to be here.”
Farming was going on for thousands of years before 4-H came along to promote pesticides, herbicides, hybrids, and chemicals for big, corporate ag to sell to farmers. Get 'em hooked young, keep 'em hooked for life! 4-H needs to go so kids can learn about real, sustainable farming again.
04/12/10 at 11:28 AM
I don't know what 4-H might have become, but when I was in the county 4-H president many years ago, we weren't indoctrinated in that way. Maybe it's the FFA you have in mind...