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Farm Extension Office Says Proposed County Cuts Would Mean the End of It

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The County Cooperative Extension office, which offers nutrition advice to residents and crop and pesticide advice to farmers, may shut down if the county cuts its contribution in half as proposed, program officials said Thursday.

“We’re looking at the total elimination of the program by the end of the year,” said J. Michael Henry, extension office director.

The 73-year-old extension program is funded by the county, the University of California and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the county budget tentatively approved last month would cut the county’s contribution in half, from $256,000 to $128,000.

If that happens, the program probably will have to close by December, Henry said.

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The extension office, which serves about 40,000 people a year, offers workshops for low-income families, pregnant women and teen-agers on how to stretch food dollars while maintaining good nutrition and conducts the 4-H farm program with local school districts.

It also coordinates agricultural research with the University of California and provides crop and pest assistance to county farmers. Research ranges from finding safer pesticides to producing fatter, juicier strawberries.

The office made local headlines last year after researchers there released a survey on hunger in Orange County. The survey found that most of the county residents needing daily food assistance were children.

With the county reducing its backing of the program so drastically, the university and federal government cannot make up the shortfall, said Allyn D. Smith, UC agriculture and natural resources director. If the cut is approved, the UC system probably will have to stop participating with the county on cooperative agricultural programs, Smith said.

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Most counties in California provide office space and staff for their local cooperative extension offices. One of the main purposes of those offices is to make university research on agriculture and nutrition useful to California residents, Smith said.

Santa Barbara County has asked its cooperative extension office to take a 15% cut, the second biggest cut in the state. Most counties, though, are requiring cuts of 5% to 10%, Smith said.

UC pays the salary of the Orange County extension director and pays for all its agricultural research conducted in the county, Smith said. The county provides an office, six full-time workers and vehicles.

The Board of Supervisors tentatively approved the budget last month, but will complete work on the spending plan Aug. 27.

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