The ailing economy hasn’t only clobbered housing, banking, and the automotive sectors — a lot of agricultural Extension, research, and education programs face sharp cutbacks in the proposed fiscal 2010 federal budget and from major declines in tax revenues at the state level.

A report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government shows that 47 states had a decline in first quarter 2009 revenues from personal and corporate taxes of more than $20 billion compared to the same period in 2008.

Nationally, Alaska was down the most, at 74.1 percent, a casualty of the big drop in oil prices; followed by Arizona, down 20.8 percent, reflecting the housing market bust.

In the Southeast region, total tax revenues were down 11.7 percent from a year ago. Georgia was worst hit, with a 19.3 percent drop, followed by North Carolina, 17.1 percent; South Carolina, 15.2 percent; Virginia, 13.9 percent; and Florida, 13.7 percent.

In the Mid-South, Arkansas fared best, with only a 0.2 percent decline from 2008; Mississippi was down 7.5 percent; Louisiana 4.5 percent; Tennessee 10 percent.

Second quarter 2009 is expected to be no better, said Robert Ward, deputy director of the institute.

State governors and legislatures, faced with major revenue shortfalls, have been scrambling to find places to cut spending, and agriculture programs are often in the crosshairs.

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum has said in recent speeches that the state’s Extension Service and the primary ag research center, the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station, are facing cuts by the legislature of 6.5 percent to 10 percent, and that he had even been asked to present the expected impact of a reduction of as much as 20 percent.

The cuts, Keenum says, would have an adverse impact not only on the departments involved, but on communities all across the state.

In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget would cut $13 million, or 20 percent, of funding for the Louisiana State University AgCenter, costing more than 100 Extension instructors and staff, according to Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain. A proposed $15 million cut for his agency would eliminate 230 jobs, including inspectors for seed, fertilizer, and pesticides.

“How many farmers can farm without the science the AgCenter provides?” he asked. “They develop new varieties of crops that take years of development. It’s critical to keep them funded.”

As part of state budget cuts, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is being forced to cut $2.6 million from Extension programs. Of 700 full-time Extension workers, 250 are eligible for early retirement.

“We will lose some valuable people,” says Joseph A. DiPietro, vice president for agriculture. “Some of our Extension agents are so poorly paid they qualify for food stamps.”

Other major agricultural states are facing funding cuts at the state level for Extension/research programs.

President Obama’s $3.55 trillion federal budget proposal for fiscal 2010 would cut $97 million for agricultural research facility construction that the administration considers congressional earmarks.

Funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service would be cut by $40 million, 
to $1.15 billion.

The Cooperative State 
Research, Education, and Extension Program would receive 
$1.11 billion for research and Extension programs, down from $1.17 
billion last year.

The Agriculture Food Research Initiative, the 
competitive grants awarding body within CSREES would receive $202 
million.

The United States Forest Service would receive $301.6 
million for forest and rangeland research, up from $296.4 million in fiscal 
2009.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com