by Cheyenna McCurry
Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau
UI McClure Center
Dr. Michael Parrella, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Idaho, presented the Agriculture Research and Extension Service’s budget for fiscal year 2020 Wednesday morning to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
Parrella proposed the UI Ag Research and Extension’s plans for the more than $32.9 million general fund request to JFAC. These plans include replacing equipment, growing research opportunities and expanding dedication to science, technology, engineering and math education for Idaho youth in the 4-H program.
“In CALS, we are generating ideas and conducting research that impacts Idaho, the U.S. and the world…” Parrella said during his presentation to JFAC.
The U of I Agriculture Research and Extension Service is a research-based division of CALS that offers agricultural research and programming for Idaho youth and college students throughout the state. They have nine research and extension centers in Idaho located in Aberdeen, Boise, Caldwell, Dubois, Idaho Falls, Kimberly, Moscow, Parma, Salmon, Tetonia and Twin Falls.
The 4-H Youth Development is one of the many successful programs that the U of I Extension offers to K-12 Idahoans of which more than 70,000 participated in 2018.
“As you can see, the work we do impacts the entire state. All of Idaho is our classroom,” Parrella said during his presentation.
According to the Legislative Budget Book (LBB), the governor recommended partial funding for the Extension’s request for replacement items, Rock Creek Cattle research and occupancy costs for completed projects at three locations. But the lack of funding for the 4-H STEM Education expansion program raised concerns at the JFAC budget hearing.
“As the governor put emphasis on our workforce development and we know that a good share of that are STEM jobs…we know the go-on rate for 4-H is 63%, why was this not at least encouraged?” Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding said.
David Hahn of the Division of Financial Management said that Governor Little “fully supports the 4-H program and all that is does in relation to STEM.”
“His focus is to invest in the STEM Action Center and STEM education for fiscal year 2020,” Hahn said.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, responded, “Do you think that’s the best way to designate those dollars that will make an impact on STEM?”
Hahn said the governor believes that since the STEM Action Center partners with several institutions and agencies statewide, “STEM is best served working through that center.”
Parrella added that the Extension is “very active in STEM education” and that they don’t plan on ending those programs. The Extension has seen an increased involvement in STEM education through the 4-H program and the agency wanted to dedicate funding for additional positions.
In addition, Governor Little also recommended a 3% increase in employee compensation.
“[This] will have a positive impact on our ability to attract and retain the employees who are here to serve the state of Idaho,” Parrella said at JFAC hearing.
Parrella also visited the House Agriculture Affairs committee on Thursday afternoon to present the Extension’s successes and needs. He told the committee that aged buildings, outdated labs and information technology system are issues limiting the Research and Extension Center’s effectiveness.
Housing for graduate students and interns on center sites is also a challenge. The UI Extension would like to train more graduate and undergraduate students in order to reinforce the research program.
“It is difficult sometimes for grad students to actually work at our R&E Centers, there is no housing for them…the idea of expediting that and making it more doable for these students, I think is hugely important,” Parrella said to the Ag Affairs committee.
The UI Ag Research and Extension has seen great strides despite the challanges. At the Nancy M. Cummings Research Education and Extension Center in Salmon, a new classroom and outreach facility has broken ground, the construction of the Germplasm Seed Potato Facility on the Moscow campus is coming along,and the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center became the first and only USDA certified organic center for the University of Idaho.
“We are proud of the research we conduct, the students we train and the unbiased information we deliver to the citizens of Idaho,” Parrella said during JFAC budget presentation.
Posted January 27, 2019