MADISON, Wis. — Steep budget cuts have reduced the number of county agriculture agents in a key area of Wisconsin at a time when their knowledge and advice are in high demand.
The UW-Extension is currently operating with 15 fewer ag agents than last year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported .
Grant, Green and Lafayette counties don't have a full-time agent despite paying the required fees for them, said Republican state Rep. Todd Novak, of Dodgeville. Officials are in the process of hiring an agent for Grant and five other counties, but there aren't funds to help Green and Lafayette counties, he said.
"They are two of the most ag-dependent counties in the state," Novak said. "They should be a priority."
Agriculture accounts for 58 percent of jobs in Lafayette County and 32 percent of the jobs in Green County, according to the national Agricultural Statistics Service. The industry is responsible for putting $2 billion into the Green County economy and $1.3 billion into the Lafayette County economy.
The reduction in agents is a result of $3.6 million in budget cuts two years ago, said Karl Martin, the dean and director of the Extension's cooperative division.
"Until I can figure out ways to generate new revenue, we just have to make some of these difficult decisions," he said.
Agents give advice, troubleshoot problems, educate through workshops and connect farmers to research at the university.
"A lot of great research is being done at the University of Wisconsin that can be used to help farmers, but you've got to have a good conduit to get it out to them," said George Koepp, the ag agent for Columbia County and president-elect of the Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents.
The personnel cuts come at a time when the state's farmers are stressed by low grain and dairy prices and a cold, snowy spring that may delay the planting season, according to farmers and farm advocates.