Extension hopes for more agents

Published 11:14 pm Friday, March 4, 2011

Agents: Barron Keeling, research specialist senior at the Tidewater Research Extension Center, works on research in the plant pathology lab in January. The Extension service is suffering from a shortage of agents, but could receive a new one soon.

By Alissa Smith

Virginia Statehouse News

Virginia’s “dean of agriculture” says new Cooperative Extension field agents will be deployed throughout the commonwealth to fill gaps in county Extension office positions.


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But just when the 25 new agents will hit the ground remains an unknown.

Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech University, said the state budget language is still being reviewed to help clear up the situation.

Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech, said $1 million of the money budgeted by the General Assembly would go toward the new hires.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley is looking for a new Agriculture and Natural Resources agent who has a specialty in horticulture, said Karen Ridings, unit coordinator at Fredrick County Extension office.

“Given that we are probably one of the biggest agriculture counties, we would love to have that position filled after it (has been) empty for two and a half years,” Ridings said.

But Ridings said the new positions first would be filled in counties that don’t have agents. It’s the Extension service’s priority, she said.

It’s still unclear whether Suffolk will benefit from the new hires. The city lost its agricultural Extension agent when Rex Cotten retired last year. The position has not been filled.

“It was our intent and remains our intent, even after losing funding for five consecutive years, to maintain at least one agent in every Virginia county,” Hincker said.

There are 95 counties in Virginia, and only a handful are without a full-time Extension agent, though the offices are staffed.

“There aren’t many counties across the state that don’t have at least one agent,” said Jake Grove, the Clarke County Extension agent.

“They did come out and do some hiring in those holes, so I think if they aren’t in place, they will soon will be.”

However, Lori Greiner, communications manager at Virginia Tech, said that they don’t know where the new hires will be stationed throughout the state.

Grove hopes the Extension service will “get creative” in filling vacancies in the critical positions across the state.

Hincker said counties must provide some of the funding for Extension agents. Grove said that traditionally two-thirds of the funding comes from the state, and the counties provide the final third, but that can vary from county to county.

“We’re hopeful that at some point we’ll be able to fill the holes and gaps in the services that we’ve had to work with for the past few years,” Grove said.