The farm gate value of the pear crop in Jackson County was $23.5 million in 2012, wine grapes were worth $7 million, and the total value of all agricultural crops in the county was $55 million. A key factor in the success of the county's agriculture industry is the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. But the Jackson County Budget Committee wants to cut the county's $200,000 contribution to SOREC.
If this doesn't add up to you, join the ever-growing club of Extension supporters who are raising a barn roof with their ruckus over the proposal.
At first, most of the protests came from people involved in 4-H and the Master Gardener Program — both of which are run through the Extension Service. Those are tremendously valuable programs that contribute to children's education and local residents' ability to grow healthy food for themselves and their families.
But Extension is much more than 4-H lambs and backyard tomatoes, as a story in today's Mail Tribune makes clear. It's also a key resource for a major industry.
Mark Wisnovsky explains that his parents would not have been successful in starting the first modern vineyard in the Applegate Valley four decades ago if it hadn't been for the advice they received from Extension Service researchers, who gave them valuable data on soils, climate, the best grape varieties to plant, as well as irrigation techniques and managing plant diseases and pests.
The same goes for the valley's world-famous pears. Mike Naumes, CEO of pear grower Naumes Inc., says support from the Extension Service is "very, very important" to his industry, helping with cold storage solutions, pest and disease control and other issues.
We're not trying to beat up on the Budget Committee, which is justifiably concerned about cutting spending to balance the county budget without depleting reserve funds too rapidly. But there must be places to find $200,000 in the budget that won't jeopardize a $55 million industry.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has made a point of investing in economic development to boost local industry, and create and maintain jobs. It's hard to square that with destroying a public entity that has been a valuable partner to the private sector for many years.
If local contributions to Extension disappear, so will federal matching dollars that require local support. Every dollar the county contributes to the Research and Extension Center generates $8.48 from other sources.
The Budget Committee meets for the last time on Wednesday. The commissioners do not have to accept all the committee's recommendations. Extension funding is one place they should draw the line.
And by the way: Wonder where we found those figures at the beginning of this editorial listing the value of local crops?
The Southern Oregon Research and Extension Service's annual report.