It has been a roller coaster ride for state funded agricultural programs in Mississippi this year, with Governor Haley Barbour’s proposed budget reductions threatening sharp cutbacks in land grant programs at Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University.

But following negotiations last week by a small group of lawmakers, the legislature Monday approved a $5.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that keeps funding at roughly the same levels as last year, and though the measure had not been signed by the governor at mid-week, he had not reported any objections.

Agriculture units at the two universities, which had managed a significant budget cut last year through personnel attrition, early retirements, and other belt-tightening, were advised as the 2011 legislative session was drawing to a close that they were being targeted by the executive branch for another $5.4 million in cuts.

“It was a bombshell,” said Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Almost 50 agriculture-related organizations and agribusiness groups, including the Farm Bureau, the Delta Council, the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, the Mississippi Peanut Promotion Board, the Mississippi Rice Council, the Mississippi Soybean Association, the Mississippi Corn Promotion Board, the Mississippi Forestry Association, the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts, and others signed on to a letter to House and Senate leaders registering “strong opposition” to the governor’s proposal.

“This will have a profound and negative impact on all who rely on agriculture in Mississippi,” the letter said. “Agriculture cannot be sustained at its current level without the technology development and support services provided by these two land grant universities.

“We do not believe that the estimated $5 million in additional cuts are appropriate or necessary in order to maintain the state’s fiscal responsibility … and we respectfully request that you reject the position of the executive branch for these reductions.”

When faced with budget cuts totaling nearly 15 percent over two years, it’s not possible to make up such a large funding loss by not filling lapsed positions and other belt-tightening measures, says Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the Delta Council.

“When you get above 9 percent, you’re faced with taking out current employees, either through early retirements or other means, and closing down or eliminating programs.