Virginia Cooperative Extension moves forward

By Lori Greiner
You may have noticed some new Virginia Cooperative Extension faces in your community over the past few months. That’s because Extension has been busy filling positions that were vacant due to the departure of 29 Extension agents and 12 specialists in 2010. The restoration of the cuts made to Extension by the state in 2011 have enabled Extension administrators to hire more than 25 agents. In all, 42 agents have been hired since July 2011. Approximately 210 agents will be located in the county and city offices by the end of May. Three specialist positions will also be filled this year: One will support the field crops industry and will be located at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center, another will support the livestock industry and will be located at the Southern Piedmont AREC, and the third will support 4-H youth programs.

An additional $500,000 was also included in this year’s state budget to cover 10 to 12 more agents in the field. “The ability to put more agents in the field will help us fill both geographic and programmatic gaps in the local units,” said Virginia Cooperative Extension Director Ed Jones.

Extension is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations made by Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. Fornash was asked to conduct an analysis of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s structure, funding trends, and research. In her report, Fornash made several recommendations to strengthen the organizational structure, encourage greater communication, and provide for additional transparency in the use of funds to external stakeholders. These recommendations can be found in the report posted on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Several recommendations call for strengthening communication across the system. Extension will be looking at several ways to do this, including developing a system to collect, analyze, and report the impact that Extension has on the commonwealth. Jones has appointed several Extension faculty members to develop and pilot an impact collection and documentation process. They have been divided into five interdisciplinary, self-directed teams that will look at ways to gather and evaluate Extension impacts and share them with clients, stakeholders, and the public.

Extension is working toward addressing several of the other recommendations and will post its progress on its news website.