AmericanFarm.com

Maryland Extension surveys ag community

By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
Senior Editor

(April 7, 2015) In the past decade or so, as Maryland Extension has undergone a system-wide restructuring and a major reduction in staff, there has emerged an underlying yet evident sense of frustration.
Where once there were Extension agents in every calling — agriculture, 4-H and family service — in every county office there remain only a handful with specializing agents, as best they can, covering packages of three or four counties.
The response has been: “We try, but we can’t do it all.”
Within this new reality, University of Maryland Extension (the agency has dropped the word “Service” from its title) on the Eastern Shore is seeking to reaffirm or newly define its mission.
Shannon Dill, ag agent in the Talbot County office, and a spokesperson for the effort, said farmers and citizens, Extension clients — all are being polled, seeking to reframe the agency’s mission and to determine “what we can do and what we can do better,” Dill said.
“In the heyday of Extension,” Dill commented, “We could do it all. There is the realization now that we can’t.”
The survey hopefully will help to define the challenges facing agriculture, particularly on the Eastern Shore, and point a way to what Extension can do in response to those challenges.
“The vitality of agriculture on the Eastern Shore” may well be at stake Dill commented.
A letter accompanying the poll  — which by way is also on line — declares, straight out, that “Maryland Eastern Shore Agriculture Needs Assessment.”
The letter continues:
“University of Maryland Extension (UME) is committed to providing quality services for members of our agricultural community. That is why we’re asking for your help in letting us know how we can better serve your needs.
“Your responses to the online survey will help us develop programs and resources that better meet the educational needs of the Eastern Shore agricultural community.
“This survey is open to all individuals who are at least 18 years old and farm on the Eastern Shore, including the counties of Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, and Worcester.  
“It is estimated that the survey will take 10 minutes or less to complete. The survey is confidential and does not contain questions that may personally identify you. Please complete the survey only once. The survey will be open until April 30. Once all the data has been collected we will hold public meetings to share and discuss results and recommended actions.  Your input counts!”
The survey was formulated by Dill and Teresa McCoy, Extension evaluation specialist, who said discussions began over a year ago about programs and “a solid needs assessment.” 
Needs assessments are regular assignments for new agents but, Dill said, “we thought one big effort would be best for our nine counties.
“Our hopes are to get some clear information and expectations of our agriculture clientele as we move forward, especially with less money and staff.”
The poll may be found at http://tinyurl.com/npfz5vy.
It is estimated that the survey will take 10 minutes or less to complete. The survey is confidential and does not contain questions that may personally identify the farmer or the farm. The survey will be open until April 30.
Once all the data has been collected, Extension will hold public meetings to share and discuss results and recommended actions.