Sequoyah County will be losing half an ag agent in 2018.
The cutbacks in Oklahoma State University (OSU) agriculture services are due to the cutbacks in state funding.
Dr. Thomas G. Coon, vice president, dean and director of the OSU Division of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources, will be at the OSU Extension Office in Sallisaw on Thursday where he is expected to visit with State Sen. Mark Allen (D-) and State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) if Bennett does not have to be in Oklahoma City. If Bennett is unavailable, Coon said he will visit with Bennett by telephone.
The purpose of the visits is to discuss the pending cutbacks to the county’s extension office and service.
Coon was on his way to Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon to work on funding but took time to visit with us about the county’s extension service.
Tony Yates, Sequoyah County’s Extension Educator Ag 4-H Youth Development and County Extension Director, will be retiring at the end of December, and a new director will be hired to serve both Sequoyah and Adair Counties, Coon said. The current Family and Consumer Science (FCS) agents in both counties will remain as will the secretaries. In Sequoyah County that is April Lee. The county will also keep the extension office senior secretary Rebekah Isham.
Coon said about 20 Oklahoma counties are already sharing their agents on a rotating basis, due to funding cutbacks. He pointed out that in 2014 the service received $55 million a year in funding, but in 2018 that funding has been cut to $42 million.
Nevertheless, Coon said, “We fully intend to keep an office in every county and at least one educator in every county responsible for 4-H.”
Yates said Sequoyah County has about 500 enrolled in 4-H and is an agriculture county, with millions and more in ag receipts.
Coon wrote an opinion piece for the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City earlier this year. In that piece he writes: “Two agencies Oklahomans have counted on for more than a century are downsizing and reorganizing after back-to-back years of unprecedented budget cuts. As a result, agricultural research and the delivery of that knowledge to Oklahomans will be in further jeopardy if state budget reductions continue.
“The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service serves each of our state's 77 counties, but that could soon change. Extension provides research-based knowledge used by Oklahomans, including other government agencies. The food and agriculture industry has a $42 billion annual impact on the state's economy.”
What the funding cutbacks amount to, Coon concludes, are fewer services delivered at the local level by people who live in those communities.
Although most funding for the extension office comes from the state, a portion, about $36,000, is provided by the county. County Commissioner Steve Carter said that funding will continue, and is used to maintain the county fairgrounds and other ag-based services. It is not used for salaries, etc.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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