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Source: American Farm Bureau Federation news release

Thanks to the foresight of Congress more than 100 years ago, the nation's Land Grant and Cooperative Extension System has stable funding from the federal government.

But across the country, Cooperative Extension services are facing budget cuts from state legislatures. That's where Farm Bureau members can step in to help lobby for adequate support for Cooperative Extension services in their states and communities.

That was the message of Dr. Richard Bonanno, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina University, who spoke during a workshop held at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 2017 Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show.

While the federal government provides yearly funding for Extension services, those dollars must be matched by state governments, Bonanno, said. That's why cuts in state funding can hamper Extension's ability to offer programs.

"We need to do a better job of engaging our state politicians about the need for stable funding. Level funding, or small decreases in Extension budgets can impact our ability to interact with the public, provide youth development programs like 4-H and offer food and nutrition programs," Bonanno said.

North Carolina, for instance, has lost 200 agents since 2010 because of budget cuts. That reduces the ability of Extension agents to get out in the field and have face-to-face contact, Bonanno said.

As the nation's Extension system enters its second century of existence, it faces issues like funding, how to connect the public with agriculture, and increased urbanization.

In North Carolina, some urban counties questioned the need for funding Extension when they did not have any farmers living in the community, Bonanno said. But Extension was able to show why it needs a county-by-county presence, he said.

"In Charlotte, for instances, they support Extension funding because of the growth of the local food movement," he said. "They now want the county to have Extension run a county farm to teach residents about their food supply."

And while the growth in local foods has helped the public understand more about agriculture, Bonanno, a former president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, said he wants to make sure the public understands the whole picture of the nation's agriculture system.

"To me, a big part of local foods is a desire on the public to understand their food supply," Bonanno said. "The abundance and affordability of our food supply requires we have all types of farmers, and all types of agriculture."

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