A 14-percent budget cut during the 2017 legislative session left NDSU Extension with some difficult decisions. But the 2019 session was much more positive, said Greg Lardy, interim director of NDSU Extension.
Lardy said prior to the 2019 session, Extension was planning for further budget cuts while managing morale.
“We had some trepidations and angst with our employees about the possibility of additional budget cuts,” Lardy said. “We were very concerned.”
But Lardy said he is “quite pleased” with the funding from legislators, who targeted areas identified by Extension’s governing body, the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education (SBARE).
“We received a good compensation package for employees, and that was one of our key asks,” Lardy said. “We went through the last session with no pay raises, and that can damage morale with people with young families and keeping up with the bills. I’m certainly glad we got that compensation package from the state.”
Additionally, the legislature directed money toward Extension’s partnership with the counties. Lardy said currently the state pays 60 percent of the salary and benefits for county Extension agents, and the county pays the rest while also being responsible for the facility and operating costs. The legislature recently added $840,000 to take some pressure off the counties.
“We received monies for a more equitable relationship with the counties,” Lardy said. “That will enhance our county partnerships. We expect the numbers to move to a more favorable position for the counties.”
Lardy said the North Dakota Association of Counties played an important part.
“Our county partners worked very hard in lobbying to make sure appropriators knew that was a high priority for them,” he said.
The legislature also set aside money to improve Extension’s website, which is a one-time cost.
“Farmers are busy getting the crop in the ground, and we hope to make it easier for them to access information and read it more effectively from their devices,” Lardy said.
Lardy was appreciative of the legislature as well as stakeholders for their support of NDSU Extension.
“Budgets are hard and complex and finding money is not easy, so we want to thank the members of the House and Senate for what they do,” he said. “I also want to thank our supporters and constituents. Many people reached out to their senators and representatives and talked about the value of our programs, for both Extension and ag research. Having those people engaged at the local level is so critically important to the process in making sure we have a voice in the system.”
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU