Leath says he hopes to find more funding for ISU Extension
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/30/2012 1:37 PM
NASHUA, Iowa — Waverly farmer Mark Mueller told Iowa State University President Steven Leath he is concerned about a shrinking Extension service.
"We had the finest Extension Service in the world, and it's been gutted in the past five to six years," Mueller said at last week's annual meeting of the Northeast Iowa Agricultural Experimental Association. "A lot of good people have been picked off by private industry, and they're trying to do more with less, but the fat was cut out years ago, and now they're cutting into the muscle and bone."
Mueller also told Leath he is glad someone with an agricultural background is leading the university.
Leath said he doesn't like to over promise and under deliver, but he is excited by the new leadership provided by Cathann Kress, ISU vice president for Extension and Outreach.
"She understands the problems, and I've looked at the problems and I'm a little disappointed that it happened," Leath said. "I'm cautiously optimistic there will be a small funding increase from the Legislature"
ISU's budget process is complex, and programs have been disadvantaged by the way budgets have been done in recent years, Leath said. Extension is one such program.
"I've asked Cathann to tell me what she thinks would be fair, and I may not be able to do it all, but I'll try to do something," Leath said.
Erwin Johnson, a Charles City farmer, asked Leath what is the ideal percentage of support from private, state and federal sources and what the percentages are now.
Leath said ISU's funding is complicated because it receives a lot of federal research funding through competitive grants.
"I can tell you that we could easily double our private sector funding and not be out of line, and it wouldn't dominate our research agenda," Leath said.
Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Wendy Wintersteen said ISU lost $63 million in state funding over the last two years.
"That makes it almost impossible for us to have the base we need to do our job," Wintersteen said. "Student tuition now generates more income than what the state provides."
If the state increases funding and federal research funds are upped along with private sector dollars, it will spell success for the university, Wintersteen said.
"Please help us remind your legislators what ISU is doing for you at this facility and in each of your counties through Extension," Leath said.
John Rodecap of Decorah said farmers are often blamed for environmental problems, but performance-based watershed programs in northeast Iowa have demonstrated that if farmers are allowed to be part of the solution, they'll do what needs to be done. He said he hopes Leath supports the programs.
"I think farmers are great stewards of the land, and I will continue to be an active partner and advocate for agriculture," Leath said.
Ron Zelle, an agriculture teacher at Nashua-Plainfield, brought students to the meeting and asked what encouragement Leath could give to them and what he would do to hold down college costs.
With the world population surpassing 7 billion and growing, there are tremendous opportunities in agriculture, Leath said.