Growers plead for OSU Extension Service

Vintner, others say cut of $204,204 runs too deep
Gabriel Balint, a viticulturist with the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, takes soil moisture data at Pebblestone Cellars in Phoenix on Friday. Local winegrowers and pear orchardists are urging the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to spare the Extension Service from cuts, saying it provides vital support to their industries.Jamie Lusch

When Mark Wisnovsky's parents launched their dream of planting a commercial vineyard 40 years ago, they didn't do it alone.

They gained critical knowledge from Oregon State University's Extension Service about topics such as climate conditions, the soil types that suited different grape varieties best, how to manage plant diseases and pests, and about suitable irrigation methods — among others.

"It was exactly the way you would expect the partnership between private industry and government (to work)," said Wisnovsky, president of Valley View Winery Inc. and advocacy chairman for the Southern Oregon Winery Association.

A proposal to cut $204,204 from the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, which was approved by the Jackson County Budget Committee in April, could spell the elimination of county financial support for the service. The cut is one of several proposed to close a $6.8 million gap in the county budget for 2013-14 fiscal year.

The Extension cuts would hit many popular programs, such as 4-H and Master Gardeners, and would chip away at local economic cornerstones such as wine grapes and pears.

"It's not coincidental that you are seeing vineyards going in all over the place, and wineries right after them," Wisnovsky said. "It's directly related to the support we get throughout the industry, and part of that is the Extension."

Other county departments facing cuts include the Sheriff's Department, Development Services, Health and Human Services, and the libraries.

Commission Chairman Don Skundrick, who has proposed a monthly jail surcharge intended to free up general fund dollars and soften some of the cuts, said public safety is the county's priority, even though he considers all programs on the chopping block "essential."

"If push comes down to shove, we have to maintain public safety," Skundrick said, adding he doesn't want Jackson County to be in the same boat as Josephine County, where voters defeated a public safety levy last week for a second time.

According to an Extension Service report, about 11 percent of the agency's funding comes from county dollars. Making up 11 percent would be hard enough, program officials said, but state and federal funding streams likely would be pulled as a result, and that could prove catastrophic.

"The 11 percent that our county provides to our budget is important for the other partners to invest," said Phil Van Buskirk, OSU Extension administrator for Jackson and Josephine counties. "We have to have local support. If we don't have local support, it goes away."

Mike Naumes, president and CEO of area pear grower Naumes Inc., said the Extension's contribution to local businesses should be enough to merit county support.

"If we look at the pure economics of the value of the agricultural industries to Jackson County, it seems to me that Jackson County should provide some support to (the Extension)," Naumes said in a letter sent to the Board of Commissioners.

Naumes said Extension scientists have been a big help to his company in the past, providing solutions for long-term fruit storage, pest management and disease control.

"It's a very, very important thing to those of us in the pear business," said Naumes, adding that the burgeoning wine-grape industry also benefits from the expertise of local plant scientists.

"For the expanding wine industry, some people might not decide to enter (it) if there wasn't some support in Southern Oregon," he said.

Extension research scientists put on several hats when it comes to helping local agriculture businesses: educator, consultant, troubleshooter, researcher.

Scientists such as viticulturist Gabriel Balint have helped vineyards through a variety of challenges with their research, and each year brings new issues for growers, he said.

"The industry's still young," Balint said.

Extension entomologist Rick Hilton said pest management is an ongoing issue for orchards and vineyards. One solution he's helped with involved the use of hormones to disrupt the mating habits of the codling moth.

"Bear Creek uses that on all their orchards," Hilton said. "We try to implement programs that provide effective control but can minimize the impact or need for additional pesticides."

The Board of Commissioners will have the final say on Extension cuts. The commissioners will discuss the 2013-14 budget at a public hearing on Wednesday, May 29, at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.


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