Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Future of Agricultural Economics in Extension

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Future of Agricultural Economics in Extension

Article excerpt

Many scholars in our profession have addressed the decline of Extension and potential remedies. Dana Hoag did an excellent job in reviewing these studies, as well as providing his view on potential solutions. It is interesting to note that virtually all of these scholars have come from situations in which Extension has declined. In this short presentation, I do not plan on regurgitating this information. In fact, I plan on narrowing my discussion to our profession within Extension and my views on what has made it successful in Texas, where full-time employees (FTEs) in our unit have actually increased during my career.

First, I must preface my discussion with stating the obvious. Funding for Extension has been and will continue to be under pressure. A declining clientele base, combined with the need to compete for funding with defense, education, welfare, etc., has led to real decreases in at least formula funding for both agricultural research and Extension. Our profession, being considered a "soft" science, puts us in an even more precarious position. However, recognizing and acknowledging the situation is always the first step in dealing with it.

I believe there are three basic functions in Extension that agricultural economists must perform to be successful. These are extensive educational activities, applied research, and intensive educational efforts. Each of these functions is important, but, I will argue, each can have significantly different funding implications. I will discuss each of these functions; however, I will focus on the latter, given the limited space I have.

Extensive Educational Activities

I define extensive educational activities as the delivery of basic data, informational programs, and workshops. This category would include enterprise budgets, crop insurance, tax law changes, commodity price outlook, farm policy, basic economic analysis, etc. The unbiased presentation of this information is an important and necessary function of Extension. Saying that, I believe it is the least valuable of the three functions. True, extensive programming builds name recognition with clientele groups and thus supporters. By supporters, I mean that clientele will tell you this is valuable information. However, when budgets get tight, these individuals will give only "lip-service" support.

Again, I do believe that this is a valuable function of Extension. However, the amount of time spent in the delivery of this information needs to be limited (not eliminated) and time redirected to more beneficial activities. It is imperative that we become more efficient in delivering this information while expanding the audience.

We do many good things in Texas for our producers; however, efficient delivery of information is one area in which we lag. Although some of this information is state-specific, a great deal of the information/analysis applies across states. States in the West and Midwest have done a good job in improving efficiency by sharing resources across state lines as Extension FTEs have decreased. The second part of efficiency in this area is improving the delivery system. I believe the approach that the University of Illinois has taken with the development of farmdoc(TM) is a very good example. This combination of e-mail and web delivery provides a cost-effective method of rapidly delivering information/analysis, as well as advertising programs, to a larger audience.

Applied Research

This is an area in which I believe opportunities will continue to expand for Extension professionals in our field. I believe this for two reasons. First, in virtually every request for proposals, an economic assessment of results is required, especially on multidisciplinary grant proposals. In addition, as accountability issues have risen in importance among government entities, most require an external economic feasibility study before implementing new policies. Again, this provides more opportunities for economists. …

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