Jones: All Virginia counties now have Extension agents
By JANE W. GRAHAM
BLACKSBURG, Va. — All Virginia counties now have a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, Dr. Ed Jones, head of the agency, reported in a recent interview in his office at Virginia Tech.
Some have more than one.
The state presently has 217 agents with a goal of 230. The vast majority are agricultural agents, Jones said.
There are also 4-H agents and Family and Consumer Science agents.
While the number of agents is up, Jones stressed that the agency needs both agents in the field and researchers who find the answers to questions posed to agents by the farmers and other folks the agency serves.
The agricultural community’s willingness to go to bat for Extension when it came under the state legislature’s budget axe a couple of years ago appears to be a major factor in the agency having the funds to rebuild its agent numbers from a low of 179 in 2010.
As word got out of the proposed cuts, members of the state’s largest industry, agriculture, rallied their efforts to keep the money in the budget or see that it was restored.
Funding for Extension is made up of two-thirds from the state and one third from localities.
In reality, however, this is not the way it always works.
He said there is a variety of ways the agency is now getting its money. Some localities provide 100 percent funding.
Others get a 50-percent local- and 50-percent state-funding commitment and several in between, Jones said.
“We try to work with every county or city to work something out,” Jones said.
He said some localities kept Extension in their budgets even when they did not actually have an agent, a big help in re-staffing the agency.
After the General Assembly cut the Extension budget in 2010, it came back the next year and restored $1.5 million, Jones said.
This year, it designated another $500,000 for the agency.
“The agricultural industry has been very supportative,” Jones said.
He noted that the members of the industry have gone to the legislature and their local governments to explain the importance of VCE to the people of the state.
Jones said he is willing to go to any group that wants to learn more about Extension and talk about it.
Jones said the importance of Extension in people’s lives was vividly exemplified in a message he got from a woman who had participated in a Family and Consumer Science program.
She wrote that without the help of Extension her family would have lost its home.
“We’ve been through some tough times,” Jones said. “We have to do a better job communicating about the job we are doing. We’ve taken for granted that people knew what we do.”
Jones noted that there is a currently a big emphasis on economic development in the state.
“Extension is about economic development,” he stressed. “Extension’s about keeping our farmers in business, working with the rural communities and families to be solvent.”
Jones discussed the dual roles of people in Extension, the agents and the researchers.
During the 2010 debate in the General Assembly when the legislature was trying to find ways to cut Extension’s budget, some proposed cutting funds for research and using that money to put Extension agents in the field.
“One thing that is really important for the future of agriculture is the close connection between Extension and research,” he stated. “Both pieces are vital. Research is finding the answers.”
One factor that has made filling the positions rewarding for Jones, he said, is the number and quality of applicants for the jobs.
He said that there were 90 applicants for one of the jobs posted.
Jones noted that this year is the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Morrill Act that created land grant universities including Virginia Tech across the nation.
In 2014, Cooperative Extension will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act that created the nationwide service.
“Extension is needed as much, if not more, now as it was 100 years ago,” he declared. “Extension has a major role helping people address those issues.”