Tag Archives: Funding

‘A great week to be in Extension’

Brenda Reau, Michigan State University Extension educator and associate director of the MSU Product Center Food-Ag-Bio, shared that quote with me last Thursday, attributing it to Dr. Gordon Guyer, former director of MSU Extension (and president emeritus, MSU). The context was that on any given day, one of Dr. Guyer’s more famous comments was, “it’s a great day to be in Extension.” Well, I’d say his description captures the essence of this week for me.

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Gov. Rick Snyder presented his budget recommendations for FY2015 to the Michigan Legislature. In it, he proposed to increase funding for higher education by an average of 6.1 percent, and he further specified that the funding for MSU Extension and MSU AgBioResearch should be increased by 6.1 percent. That represents a $3.4 million increase in funding for MSU Extension and AgBioResearch combined. Just one year ago, I was giddy about the governor proposing a 2 percent increase in our state appropriation, and eventually the legislature doubled that to 4 percent. Here we are one year later, starting with a 6.1 percent proposed increase, and if anything, that suggests to me that the work MSU Extension and AgBioResearch is doing in support of research and its application to agriculture, food safety and nutrition, community and natural resource development, and youth development is seen as being important and worthy of increased support. To me, this is a message that the work we have carried out to focus and improve our programs, to adopt technology as a tool to reach more people, and to be more accountable for what we do and what difference it makes is paying off. We’re heading in the right direction.

It’s fine to take a moment to relish this development, but this is no time to relax and rest on our laurels. Rather, this is a time when we need to continue improving our programs, following our work plans for the year and adapting technology to help us reach even more people in Michigan. It’s also a good time to share some good news with our stakeholders. And it’s a great time for our stakeholders to share their thoughts with decision makers about the programs they value and the impact our programs are having on their lives, their farms, their businesses, their communities and their families. County commissioners, state legislators and members of Congress all need to hear from their constituents about our programs. And the most effective messages they hear are ones that are not scripted, but rather are authentic and come from the experience of the constituents who are telling their stories.

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We’re still in business

News about the U.S. government shutdown has had some folks wondering whether the shutdown affects the work of MSU Extension.  If the shutdown persists for very long, it will certainly affect us, but for now, the impact is minimal.  Questions about the shutdown and how it affects our work provide a good opportunity to remind stakeholders that we are a part of Michigan State University. We are not a governmental agency, but rather an academic institution.  And that reinforces our mission: bringing information and educational programs to people that help them to improve their lives, their families, their businesses, their farms, their communities.

The federal government is an important partner for our work, providing funding and a supporting infrastructure for the network of Cooperative Extension services at land grant universities across the nation.  Federal funding authorized by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 provides about 12 percent of the funding for our $71 million annual budget.  And we receive additional funding in the form of grants from the federal government for specific projects.  If the federal funding were to be terminated, it would have a devastating impact on our ability to serve the state. But if this shutdown is like others that have preceded it, eventually Congress and President Obama will come to an agreement on funding federal programs and we’ll have the funding we need to continue our programs.

At this point, we don’t know how long it will take for the decision makers in Washington to reach agreement. If the shutdown is ended soon, we won’t likely see any impact on our work and our funding. If it extends for a month or more, it will become more tenuous for us to continue some of our work. For example, funding for programs that are funded by federal grants, including our SNAP Education programs, may run out. We will seek guidance from the MSU administration as to how they would want us to manage under those circumstances. In general, MSU’s intent is to continue our work and our programs without interruption.

It is important to note that we work in collaboration with federal employees in the U.S Department of Agriculture and in other federal agencies, and this week is very disruptive for their work.  As you have seen in news reports, all federal employees other than those considered essential for public safety and national security have been furloughed.  So any projects that might depend on collaborators from federal agencies may need to go on without those collaborators or they may need to be postponed until the collaborators are allowed to return to work. And the uncertainty our colleagues in federal employment are facing must be personally challenging for them. Keep them and their families in your thoughts as you carry out your work.

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Governor’s budget proposal recommends increase for higher education

Governor Rick Snyder released his proposed state government budget for fiscal year 2014 this morning. He has proposed increasing the state investment in higher education an average of 2 percent over last year’s appropriations and specifically proposed increasing funding for MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension by 2 percent. This is a welcome investment in our programs, and reflects an improvement from last year, when the executive budget did not propose any increase in our funding. The 3 percent budget increase that we did receive in the current fiscal year was a result of negotiations in the legislative process. So starting with a 2 percent increase instead of no increase in the first step of the appropriations process would seem to indicate that we stand a good chance of ending up with a budget increase by the end of the process.

One other facet of the governor’s budget presents further opportunities for faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and in MSU Extension and MSU AgBioResearch. The wording from the governor’s announcement follows:

The governor recommends $1 million general fund for a new Food and Agriculture Industry Growth Initiative focused on removing barriers and leveraging opportunities identified by food processors, agri-business, and those in agricultural production as critical to business development and growth. A competitive grant process will fund research, education, and technical assistance efforts. An advisory board, consisting of food and agriculture industry representatives, will identify criteria for grant funding. Grant recipients will be required to identify program outcomes and performance metrics. In addition, up to $2 million will be available in the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) budget to support eligible projects that meet the goals and mission of this initiative. MDARD will collaborate with MSF in identifying projects for funding.

This is a follow-up to the governor’s production agriculture summit held in August 2011. At the summit, he proposed four areas of focus that would help to grow Michigan’s food and agriculture-based economy: increasing the overall economic impact of food and agriculture, increasing the number of jobs in this sector, increasing the value of exports in this sector and strengthening the availability of nutritious food to all of Michigan’s residents.

The appropriation process now turns to the Michigan Legislature. In the past two years, the legislature has completed the appropriations process and the governor has signed the appropriations bills by the early part of June. I anticipate a similar schedule this year. I will join Dr. Steve Pueppke next Wednesday at a joint hearing of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittees for the House and the Senate, during which we will have an opportunity to provide an update of our research and extension programs and their impacts. We will also address questions legislators may have at the hearing as well.

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What’s with the millage elections?

On Tuesday, five Michigan counties had millage questions on the ballot connected to MSU Extension. Several people have asked me if this is a new trend that we’ve started, and my answer is pretty straightforward: this is not something we have initiated. Certainly, we’ve never had this many millages on the ballot at one time. Prior to this month, we have only had dedicated millage votes for MSUE funding in three counties: Alger, Luce and Schoolcraft.

Luce was the first county to choose this path. In 1992, Luce County was facing revenue shortfalls and had to make tough choices on what to fund and what not to fund in their county budget. The Board of Commissioners decided that there was not enough funding for two popular but non-mandated programs, MSUE and recreation, in their budget, but they anticipated that residents would not want to go without these services. So they asked voters if they were willing to pay an increase in property taxes that would be split evenly between MSUE and recreation programs. Voters approved that and they have voted to renew the millage four times, most recently in February 2012.

Neighboring Alger County found itself in a similar predicament and followed Luce County’s example, holding a vote on a millage dedicated to MSUE, which was most recently renewed in 2011.

Schoolcraft County Commissioners took a similar stance with respect to funding for MSUE in 2011, holding a vote on a millage dedicated to MSUE in February 2011. That millage vote failed as did a follow-up vote late last year. The vote earlier this week was the third time a millage question was on the ballot in Schoolcraft County and it failed by 98 votes this time.

The other four counties that held millage votes for MSUE funding this week were Oscoda, Alcona, Iosco and Shiawassee. The millage passed in Alcona, Iosco and Shiawassee counties and failed in Oscoda. In some of these counties, the push for a millage came from residents who understood that the Board of Commissioners were seriously considering elimination of funding for MSUE in their county and they wanted to be sure that our partnership with the county remained intact.

Whether this becomes a trend or not remains to be seen. And that will be determined by the voters and elected officials of the counties we work with, not by MSU. Our position is that we want to have a partnership with every county in the state so that we can serve all Michigan residents. The county’s responsibility in that partnership is providing space for an office, providing support staff to serve that office, and providing operating funds for our programs. In turn, we ensure access for residents to all of MSUE’s programs and services, we staff at least one Extension educator in the county office, and we provide at least a half-time program coordinator for 4-H programs in the county.

County governments continue to be challenged by limitations on revenues, and the many demands for funding of programs under their responsibility. We really don’t have a stance on how we prefer for counties to provide funding for our programs. That’s a decision best made by elected officials and citizens of each county. But we stand ready to cooperate with counties as needed to help make the case for their support of our programs and presence in every county in this state.

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Our state appropriation for FY 2013 is (nearly) set

I’m still adjusting to the notion of writing articles with this headline in June rather than in September or October. For the second year in a row, the Michigan Legislature has completed the appropriations process for the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2012, by the first week of June. What a welcome change this has been!

 And unlike last year’s budget, in which we received a 15-percent reduction in funding, this time we’re targeted to receive a 3-percent budget increase in state funding. The size of the increase is welcome, but even more important is that it’s an INCREASE and not a DECREASE. It’s been a few years since we’ve been able to say that.

 The Conference Committee for the Omnibus Education Budget completed negotiations on the higher education portion of the budget last Thursday evening (May 31), and the House of Representatives quickly approved the compromise on June 1. The Michigan Senate provided their approval on Tuesday morning, June 5. So now all that remains is for the governor to sign the legislation, and then we will know for certain that our funding for next year will grow by 3 percent. There are some requirements in the legislation that call for us to report on outputs and impacts of our programs, which our new reporting system should help us to fulfill. This is right in line with our goal of providing greater accountability through our redesign process. And the increase is primarily targeted at development of a strategic initiative on growing food and agriculture sectors in the state’s economy, something that cuts across all four of our program institutes.

 As is always the case with a process like this, many people deserve credit and thanks for their roles in achieving this outcome. Within Michigan State University, many of you and other colleagues have helped to tell our story effectively to legislators. I’d like to highlight the role of Dr. Mike Kovacic, director of stakeholder relations for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for his leadership in working with the MSU Governmental Affairs office and with legislative leaders and staff to address the concerns and questions that were raised throughout the process and to keep us all focused on the outcome we achieved. Given that we began the process with an Executive Budget proposal that had no increase for MSU Extension and AgBioResearch, coming out with a 3-percent increase is an outstanding achievement. Mike was our coach and captain in the campaign that produced this outcome. MSU vice president for governmental affairs Mark Burnham and his colleagues David Bertram and Monique Field also provided great assistance and guidance.

 Many legislators also deserve credit for their roles in this process. We especially benefited from Senators Tonya Schuitmaker, Howard Walker, Darwin Booher, Roger Kahn and John Moolenaar, and Representatives Chuck Moss, Al Pscholka and Amanda Price. They and other legislators deserve thanks and appreciation from our stakeholders who spoke out in support of our programs.

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MSUE responds

Okay, we’ve talked a lot about being more responsive as a goal for Michigan State University Extension, but this is being responsive in a different, non-programmatic way. Sometimes our jobs require us to do something that is meant to help the administration of our organization work better. Over the past few months, we have communicated about changes in the way MSU asks us to verify that we’re doing the work for which our funding was intended. What used to be called Semester Effort Reporting was done three times per year (spring, summer and fall semesters). It was done on paper, and it had its own set of rules. One of those that folks chuckled at was the insistence that an individual must sign the form in blue – not black – ink. The reasoning was that a blue signature had to be original and a black signature could have been a photocopy of someone’s signature, imposed without his or her approval. Then color copiers came along, but oh, well…

 The new approach is called Effort Reporting. It is done online, and it is done only twice per year instead of three times per year. Not only that, but it comes with a deadline, and apparently developing the software system to manage the process took longer to develop than originally anticipated. Anyway, we all received an email from Terri Weller, fiscal analyst for MSUE, just before the December holiday period, asking us to go online, check the data relevant to our individual positions and their funding for the first half of 2011, and approve it as being correct by clicking on the “submit” button (no blue ink). And we were in hurry-up mode given the timeline that MSU had given us.

 I’m pleased to say that MSUE folks have responded extremely well. The deadline for submitting your effort report is tomorrow, January 13, and as of Wednesday evening, we’re 80 percent of the way there. Of the 484 reports we’re responsible for, all but 103 have been submitted by the responsible individuals. So as great as that is, I’d like to remind the 103 remaining colleagues to jump on board the Internet, go to www.cga.msu.edu, click on Effort Reporting on the left side of the screen and take it from there. And thanks to all who responded so quickly at a time of year when we’re pretty distracted.


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Shiawassee County restores MSU Extension funding

In last week’s Spotlight, I wrote about Michigan State University Extension Shiawassee County’s possible elimination through county budget cuts. I left you with the news that the Shiawassee County Finance and Budget Committee recommended restoring funding to last year’s amount of $35,036 and that the Shiawassee County Board would meet Nov. 10 – the day Spotlight was posted – to determine the fate of their county. I’m happy to report that the board voted unanimously to restore MSU Extension. The next step is to have the Memorandum of Agreement signed. Thank you to those who rallied around MSU Extension. It was wonderful to see the impact we’ve made in the county reflected in the heartfelt support of the people who have benefitted and grown through our organization. And it is always helpful for MSUE staff and faculty to share their appreciation to those who speak out in support of our programs. We have hundreds of people to thank in Shiawassee County.

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MSU Extension supporters rally to save Shiawassee County Extension from cuts by county

A grassroots movement of Michigan State University Extension supporters are rallying together to support our programs in Shiawassee County. Outside the county building in Corunna, Nov. 7, about 500 of our advocates protested the possible elimination of MSU Extension programs through budget cuts.

 The proposed Shiawassee County budget called for zero dollars to be allocated to Extension. In other words, it called for our organization’s elimination in the county. MSU Extension’s budget was reduced by more than two-thirds in the 2010 budget year. MSU Extension requested $70,530 for 2012, which was still a reduction of 31 percent from the 2009 budget year. As of Nov. 7, the Shiawassee County Finance and Budget Committee recommended to restore funding to last year’s amount of approximately $35,036. The Shiawassee County Board meets today to vote on the budget and determine the fate of MSUE in their county.

 As is often the case, the threat of eliminating MSU Extension in a county has provided an opportunity to showcase the difference our programs make in a county, and District Coordinator Deanna East and MSUE staff in the Shiawassee County office have provided details to news outlets and decision makers to show those impacts. Yet the most compelling cases for support of MSUE come from those who directly benefit from our programs, and folks in Shiawassee County have been pretty vocal these past two weeks in letting their elected officials know how MSUE is important to them.

 I received an email from Jennifer Weichel, Extension educator, earlier this week, in praise of supporters.

 Jennifer said, “We have given these volunteers the life skills they need to fight this battle and the confidence to speak up for what they believe in. I know that this means MSUE staff past and present in Shiawassee County have done their jobs, built capacity, relationships and served as examples of how to make a difference in the community and be catalysts for change. I am proud of everyone who is standing up by calling commissioners, writing letters, making signs and gathering the facts to build their case. As staff members, we have provided the facts and allowed the volunteers to determine their course of action.”

 We appreciate the support from the community, the people we serve. It’s even more important for us to get the word out about the great things we do for the state and continue to do the things we do so well that make a difference in educating the public and improving lives.

 As Jennifer continued to say in her email, “The most important message I have heard is WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and they want us to continue being a part of their lives – not just one week of the year but every day and for generations to come.”

 Read more and view a video here.

 Supporters of MSU Extension 4-H have launched a “Save Shiawassee County 4-H” Facebook page. Check it out for photos and updated information.

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Apple scab – Extension and research working across state boundaries

One of the greatest challenges of helping people understand “what’s different about Michigan State University Extension” is to get beyond the mission statements and legislative talking points and journalistic strategies and PowerPoint presentations to give people an actual example that shows “this is how MSU Extension works in our new structure.” Whenever I find one of these stories, I like to relay it to others to help give a context for understanding what often comes across as abstract concepts.

 This week we had the good fortune of receiving a visit from the Honorable Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairperson of the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. Senate. During our conversation, Secretary Vilsack alerted us to the fact that he anticipates even greater emphasis on competitive funding for the work we do in the future and a greater emphasis on working across missions (research and Extension together) and across state lines. I shared with him that the plant genomics projects funded by the USDA Specialty Crops competitive funds and led by MSU scientists (Dr. David Douches on the potato/tomato genome project and Dr. Amy Iezzoni on the apple/peach/strawberry genome project) are great examples of cross-state collaboration and integration of research with Extension.

 The next day I had another example show up in my inbox, and thought I’d share this one through my blog: Dr. George Sundin, professor of plant pathology with appointments in MSU AgBioResearch AND MSU Extension, is a collaborator in a project addressing the challenges of a disease that affects the quality of apples and diminishes product value – apple scab. Apple scab results in brown marks on apples that make the fruit unacceptable to consumers. New varieties of apple scab are emerging that are resistant to the cocktail of fungicides that scientists like Dr. Sundin have recommended to growers in the past. What was particularly pleasing about the email I received from Dr. Sundin is that he and his colleagues from other states are addressing this collaboratively in a way that integrates research and Extension. And the story was conveyed in an article released by the Associated Press and picked up in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other significant media outlets. You can read the story here:


I’m sure others are involved in efforts like this that give a great example of how MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension work in the 21st century. Thanks to Dr. Sundin and his colleagues for giving an example that can help Secretary Vilsack, Sen. Stabenow and others understand how we are addressing needs in our transformed organization.

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Farm Bill hearing takes place May 31 at MSU

This coming Tuesday, May 31, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold the committee’s first Farm Bill field hearing here at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The hearing, “Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,” will focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill, examining agriculture as well as energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that affect Michigan. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow chairs the committee. Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU president; Dr. J. Ian Gray, MSU vice president for research and graduate studies; and I will lead the opening panel discussion. Witnesses for the second and third panels will consist of various leaders in the agriculture industry.

 Sen. Stabenow is an alumna not only of MSU, but also of MSU Extension. She participated in 4‑H in Clare County as a youth, served as an intern for MSUE in Lansing as a student at MSU, and for many years supported MSUE in Ingham County as a county commissioner. Senator Stabenow was appointed to chair the agriculture committee earlier this year and has the opportunity to lead the committee through the very important reauthorization process for all laws associated with food and agriculture policy in the Farm Bill. This includes authorization for funding of research, extension and education such as the Smith-Lever funding that supports Cooperative Extension in Michigan and every other state.

 The public may participate in the hearing by submitting written testimony, which will be included in the official record of the hearing. Three copies of your testimony can be submitted at the hearing or can be sent to the committee no later than June 7, 2011. Send your testimony to aghearing@ag.senate.gov or to U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, 328A Russell Senate Office Bldg, Washington, D.C. 20510.

 For up-to-date information on the hearing and Farm Bill process, you can visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website at ag.senate.gov.

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