Friday, May 6th, 2011

Local drive for Extension funds finally gains steam

By Nancy Allen

The jar of water at left is runoff from a field with cover crops and the jar at. . .

After a stunted start, a local effort to raise money to keep the Mercer County OSU Extension office open is growing.
Cooper Farms on Tuesday donated $25,000, said volunteer Jeff Rasawehr.
"Last week I was concerned, but now we have gone from concerned to being elated," the Celina farmer said Wednesday, adding that he has verbal agreements from two other ag businesses.
Volunteer fundraiser Theresa Howick said individual farmers have donated $4,400.
Continued state, federal and local funding cuts precipitated the need for about $200,000 in the next two years to maintain county Extension operations.
Half would be used to keep existing staff and programs, including the county's 1,000-member 4-H program, diabetic education and cooking, pain management and nutrition for senior citizens, baby-sitting and Head Start nutrition education.
The other half would be used to increase Extension Educator Jim Hoorman from part time to full time and hire an assistant to help him reach farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed. Hoorman was brought to the county in 2009 mostly to promote winter cover crops, which lessen nutrient runoff into the lake. Cover crops also tie up phosphorous in plants and soil, improve soil structure, decrease soil compaction and increase yields when combined with no-till. Hoorman now spends 2 1/2 days each week in the county and the remaining time on state, regional and national projects for OSU.
Rasawehr has been working with Hoorman and Bro. Nick Renner to establish cover crops on his farmland near Celina. Other farmers in and outside the lake watershed also are using them.
Rasawehr spoke Monday during a meeting of the Ag Solutions group forming to help watershed farmers manage their manure. The group is facilitated by the Marion Community Development Organization (MCDO) agriculture committee. About 60 farmers attended the meeting.
Rasawehr brought two jars of water he collected from separate fields in close proximity. One contained slightly murky water that ran off a conventionally-tilled field with no cover crops. The other contained water from one of Rasawehr's fields that has had cover crops for three years. The phosphorous level in the murky water was 2.4 parts per million with a trace of nitrogen. Water in the other jar had a trace amount of phosphorous and no nitrogen, he said.
"Those jars said a lot," Rasawehr said. "The most cost effective, common sense way to begin having an affect (on nutrient runoff and the lake) is by sending an Extension agent farm to farm to talk and getting cover crops on the ground."
MCDO President Jim Keller said Ag Solutions may help collect funds for the Extension.
Watershed farmers are under increased pressure since new laws aimed at reducing nutrient runoff became effective in January. The laws were triggered by last year's toxic algae blooms in Grand Lake that sickened humans and animals. The algae is fed largely by phosphorous that runs off mostly farmland in the livestock-intensive watershed.
Barb Phares, Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development in Mercer County, said the $25,000 gift is "great," but said the office needs continued support. Phares works with a network of advisors and youth involved in the county's roughly 28 4-H clubs.
"It will bring us up to where we were last year, but we had to dig into savings last year and now it's gone," she said. "And, we don't know what next year will bring as far as any state and federal funding."
State and federal funds for county Extension offices are contingent upon county money. If an Extension office receives no allocation from its commissioners, it receives no state or federal funds. Mercer County commissioners continue to fund Extension at a reduced level though the office is not mandated, Phares said.
Some Extension offices have closed in recent years and Phares said there are least four county Extension offices seeking private funds to survive. Other counties have passed levies to fund the offices.
Phares said her office can operate through the end of this year with existing funds. If no new money materializes, positions will start to be eliminated.
"People haven't gotten the message this is really serious ... if we don't have the money, we have to close our doors," she said. "It's not just because it's my job, but because I believe in what we do."

Extension help:
To donate or for more information, contact Theresa Howick at 419-584-0626 and leave a message, e-mail howickfarms@bright.net, or go to Mercer.osu.edu and click on the Support Mercer County Extension tab.
Tax deductible donations may be made to the OSU Development Fund.
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