Tough economy can lead to disastrous cuts

We were sitting around a conference table during a summer turfgrass field day planning meeting, and one of the faculty – Dr. Chris Williamson – asked, “Have you heard that they are going to eliminate University Extension at Cornell?”

June 24, 2010

Munroe Miller

We were sitting around a conference table during a summer turfgrass field day planning meeting, and one of the faculty – Dr. Chris Williamson – asked, “Have you heard that they are going to eliminate University Extension at Cornell?” 

We are all friends with Frank Rossi from his years at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and we immediately wondered how, if this was true, it would impact the excellent turf program he is growing at Cornell. Rossi’s work involves generous doses of extension activity, by him and his colleagues. 

At Wisconsin, all four full-time turf faculty have some percentage of their time devoted to extension work, and UW Extension pays that portion of their salaries. Any elimination of the extension system in our state would be an unmitigated disaster. I assume it would be in most, if not all, states as well.

An Internet search brought to light a report by Andrew Siff of NBC New York. The third paragraph said, “Tucked in the myriad cuts in this year’s tough-times fiscal plan is an elimination of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, an organization devoted to agricultural solutions and education – which means fighting pests.”

Golf courses are, by any definition, agricultural enterprises and the impact the extension system has had on turf management all across the country has been unparalleled and unmatched. That some legislators want to eliminate this nearly century-old program defies common sense, which is what many politicians lack.

A call to the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences communications office and an email from Dr. Rossi offered clarification. The proposal is to eliminate the Cornell IPM program, not all of CCE. IPM is an extension activity, a successful one that resulted in the 10-year Bethpage Project led by Jennifer Grant. Bethpage was a vivid example of how golf can be impacted by legislation that is not well informed. Rossi reports he believes the program will be salvaged to some level this year, but N.Y. state budget conditions look worse for 2011-12 and the stay of execution could be temporary.

Stories, even erroneous and inaccurate ones like the one written by Andrew Siff, get former farm kids like me really worked up. University Extension had a substantial and positive impact on my life growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Our one-room grade school listened each week to WHA radio for music education and art education. WHA is an extension offering. We belonged to a 4-H Club and participated in county fairs and the state fair – extension programs. Our fathers sought advice from the county agent to improve livestock and crop production. Our mothers listened to the advice of our county home-ec agent – both were extension employees.

My dependence on UWEX continued into my career as a golf course superintendent. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the extension system to our profession as a whole. I would have been lost more than a few times without access to extension facilities, activities and staff. Think about how important the professors are to us; recall the relief you felt when one of them showed up at your golf course to help you solve a difficult problem.

Remember events like educational seminars and field days? How about all of the articles they have written, and the value of extension publications and bulletins? Realize that frequently the diagnostic labs on campus we depend on are extension activities. The fact that my requirements and expectations of University Extension has changed so much in my life shows that extension itself has changed with society and its needs. 

All of us involved in golf turf, I am convinced, have benefited similarly. No one is more anxious to ax expensive, ineffective and outdated government programs than I am. University Extension, however, is not one of those programs. Let us take the Cornell University situation as a warning that we must be alert and vigilant and prepared to educate misguided attempts to eliminate it from our profession and our lives.