President warns of budget impasse's impact on Ag Research and Extension in Pa.

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.

Penn State's Agricultural Research and Extension programs enjoyed a 9.3 percent proposed increase in the 2015-16 budget passed by both the House and Senate, demonstrating strong support for these programs.

"It is critical that the legislature and governor act to preserve this component of the land-grant partnership and protect the agricultural research, education and service programs that promote  our economy and quality of life," Barron said.

Barron will testify before the state House and Senate appropriations committees on March 2 to underscore the negative and transformative effects of a continued delay in appropriations, both for Agricultural Research and Extension, and for the wider University.

Last Updated February 29, 2016