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Local ag extension office impacted by budget cuts

Local ag extension office impacted by budget cuts

Since 2008, the University of Tennessee Extension Service has been talking budget reduction. With the reduction going through this past week, the trickle-down effect is resulting in the elimination of agent positions across the state and will lead to the Weakley County office’s second staff reduction since 2001.

“The state extension released a staffing plan last week,” Weakley County Ag Extension agent Jeff Lannom explained. “They’ve been talking about trimming the budget for the past two years.”

When the official number for the reduction came through, Lannom and his staff sat down and, through a process of listening sessions, focus groups and other feedback, attempted to figure out how to handle a state budget that will soon be slimmer by $5.4 million. 

“Statewide, 48 county positions have been cut. Nineteen employees have been asked to relocate and six of those are in the western region of the state,” Lannom deciphered. “In Weakley County, we won’t lose any personnel, but we’ll lose a position.”

The office employed a 50/50 agent; that is to say 50 percent for agriculture and 50 percent for the 4-H program. Earlier, Erin Bragg had been employed with the office as a 4-H youth development extension agent, but she left in November to take other employment in Kentucky. This means that, effective July 1, Bob Shumake, who had previously held the 50/50 position, will assume the 4-H position. 

“Ten years ago, in 2001, we had a staff reduction and we lost one position. We had five staff. 

“Now, in 10 years, we’ve gone from five staff members to three,” Lannom explained. “When I came to the office in 1990, we had five agents – two for ag, two for 4-H and one for family and consumer sciences.”

Now, with the loss of the position, Lannom will assume the agriculture position, Shumake will be the 4-H person and Beverly Shelby will continue to be the family and consumer sciences extension agent. 

Though the office has lost approximately 40 percent of its staff in a 10-year period, Lannom remains positive about the future and the continuing success of the programs the office extends to the county and the schools. 

This means not taking on more responsibilities, but carefully crafting the current programs to make sure they reach their full potential. 

“We’re planning. We’re figuring out how to do the best we can with fewer people. We will figure out the things we can do well with what we have,” Lannom emphasized. 

“We will meet with the county ag committee and staff and determine what we can accomplish. I look at this as a necessary thing. It’s happened and we’re trying to be positive and realistic and move forward.”

wcp 2/03/11