A report released in May of 2015 showed tremendous demand for college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States. There is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually.
So why are states like Illinois and Pennsylvania trying to eliminate agriculture education and research?
For the past eight months, Pennsylvania state lawmakers and state Gov. Tom Wolf have not been able to come to agreement on the state budget, holding up funding for the four state-related universities, a combined amount of more than $600 million.
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, its research and Extension programs are funded through the Land Scrip Fund, located in the state Department of Agriculture’s budget. The Land Scrip Fund was part of the governor’s line-item veto and is currently zeroed out.
HERSHEY, Pa. — At a meeting of Penn State's Board of Trustees on Feb. 26, President Eric Barron outlined the projected, irreversible impact of Harrisburg's budget stalemate on the University's Agricultural Research and Extension operations. If state appropriations for the programs, which provide a wide range of critical services to the agricultural community in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, are not approved before May, Barron said 1,100 positions could be lost statewide. State lawmakers and the governor have not for the past eight months been able to come to agreement on the state budget, holding up funding for the Commonwealth's four state-related universities, a combined amount of more than $600 million. For Penn State, not only is its education funding in jeopardy, but also its funding for agricultural activities across the state.
“The power of the land-grant mission is that it serves the Commonwealth. Penn State's position as Pennsylvania's sole agricultural university is fundamental to our foundation, along with providing access to an affordable, top-flight education for our citizens and driving the Commonwealth's economy,” Barron said. “If there is not quick action to restore funding for these vital programs, the 150-year-long partnership between Penn State and Pennsylvania will be forever changed.”
“I also want to share the serious concern I have over the future of ag research and extension at Penn State,” said Penn State Trustee Keith Eckel. “The truth is that these programs serve every consumer in the state. It is critically important that [the loss of these programs] does not happen.”
According to an analysis by the College of Agricultural Sciences, more than 1,100 jobs across Pennsylvania’s counties are on the line, from faculty to part-time extension positions. Also on the line are an additional $90 million in federal and county appropriations, and competitive grant funding that flows into Pennsylvania as a result of the Commonwealth’s investment.
“The dedicated faculty, staff, researchers and educators whose positions are at risk play a vital role in helping our state’s single largest industry to compete on a national scale, Barron said. “Their work helps Pennsylvania’s farmers to increase efficiency and productivity, and helps the entire agricultural industry to respond swiftly to animal disease outbreaks, to address natural crises such as flooding and drought, to diagnose plant diseases that can threaten crops, and to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness, to name just a few of many critical services. We are now vulnerable to potential loss of key people, and we are already seeing clear indications that other states are beginning to lure away vital faculty and staff talent.”
Barron said continued funding delays for the 2015-16 budget year also will result in the elimination of 4-H and Master Gardener programs statewide, impacting more than 92,000 members and more than 9,500 volunteers in communities across Pennsylvania.
The University's administration has done all it can to support the mission of the College of Agricultural Sciences, transferring millions of dollars annually into the College of Agricultural Sciences to help make up for declining or flat state funding. This year alone, Penn State already has spent more than $30 million of University funds to keep important programs going in the absence of a state budget.
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There is the petition on Change.org to “Restore Funding to Penn State College of Ag Sciences Research/Extension Programs” CLICK HERE to read more.
Source: Change.org, Penn State News
Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas P. Jones at a podium in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.