University of Nevada President Marc Johnson appeared before Churchill County commissioners last week, discussing both the college of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE).
Johnson, unlike his predecessor, recently departed the ivy walls of his Reno office to visit the rural counties to discuss the past, present and future of programs that tend to the agricultural needs of Nevada.
After talking to commissioners and the community, Johnson declared no more cuts are in store for UNCE despite the program going through massive cuts during the last two to three years. In order to save as many people possible in the county extension offices, university bean counters reduced county extension educators to 90 percent time and specialists to 75 percent time.
According to Johnson, Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed $1 million over the next biennium for UNCE, and with a base of half-million dollars a year, Johnson figures the university will be able to restore all county extension positions to 100 percent and specialists to 85 percent.
Cooperative Extension programs are vital for the rural Nevada’s existence, especially when more agriculturally related industries are coming to the Silver State, including a meat processing facility in Yerington and a dry milk plant in Fallon.
Over the years Churchill County faculty have helped increase the grape growing and wine production as well as planting new crops such as Teff that require little water to the Lahontan Valley. Churchill Vineyards owner Charlie Frey praised UNCE at last week’s commission meeting on the advice he has received.
UNCE provides knowledge for all the people in every county and assistance to people in six areas: natural resources, children and families, health and nutrition, community development, agriculture and horticulture. Every year hundreds of Nevadans involved with food-producing ventures from Elko to Douglas counties attend classes to learn how to market their products better. In Churchill County, farmers have learned the importance of growing alternative crops and to diversify. Every year UNCE educators rely on surveys and other scientific tools to identify problems affecting their communities and devise programs to meet those needs and challenges.
Johnson, is also proposing that one dean head both CABNR and UNCE, an idea that the LVN cannot endorse at this time. We are leery of agencies expanding their reach, and when that occurs with only one person in charge of two separate agencies that have distinct missions, we are hesitant how funding will be handled.
This is a concern expressed by both Frey and the Nevada Association of Counties, who have serious reservations about one person directing two separate organizations. Johnson said the idea of one department head is to broaden the outreach of both CABNR and UNCE.
The bottom line, though, is that the public and local governments have been sold a bill of goods before by government and that distrust is a legitimate concern.
Let’s take one step at a time: Restore the funding and programs for UNCE, and then initiate studies involving county governments, the Nevada Farm Bureau, NACO and the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association to see how control of the agencies should best be handled.
That way, the state’s agricultural interests will be well represented before the university ventures into uncharted territory.
Editorials are written by the LVN Editorial Board and appear on Wednesdays.