Letter to the Editor: How does Extension best serve citizens?

Chris Boerboom Director
North Dakota State University Extension Service

I write this letter to thank the North Dakotans who expressed support for the NDSU Extension Service to the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education (SBARE).

In the past year, NDSU Extension Service’s state budget was cut by $4.1 million, which led to many lost positions. The Legislature also instructed SBARE to review Extension’s mission, efficiency and effectiveness and to recommend changes.

Through this process, the core question has been, “How does Extension best serve our citizens?” For example, most people have smartphones, so can’t they find answers with a simple search? Some other states have switched from county to district Extension offices; why do we need Extension agents in every county? Can low population counties share staff with a neighboring county?

Rightly, SBARE asked these questions in their Extension review. I thank SBARE for digging deeply to fully understand Extension’s mission, which is to “provide science-based education that improves the economic, health and community conditions for North Dakotans.” Simply said, Extension’s purpose is “extending knowledge, changing lives.”

How does Extension best help people make informed decisions? It takes education built on trust and relationships. Anyone can go to Google for information, but not everything on the internet is accurate. Having a trusted relationship with an agent who provides unbiased and science-based education is the key to making wise decisions. We call this transformational education because it truly changes lives.

According to the dozen plus stakeholders who testified at SBARE listening sessions, more than 100 letter writers and hundreds of citizens at county forums, a county-based system with Extension agents is the best approach to fulfill our mission. Extension agents delivering agricultural, 4-H, family and community programs are highly valued. One letter stated, “There simply is no other entity or organization that could take the place of the current NDSU Extension presence in our county.”

We in Extension agree. County-based agents are critical to our Extension mission because they know the local issues, the people and how to provide the best education. That education may be high-tech, a handshake over the fence or most likely both.

Although the details of the agreement between Extension and counties to fund Extension agents need to be finalized, one point is clear. SBARE voted that all counties, regardless of size, should be treated the same. I thank SBARE, county commissioners and concerned citizens for working together to find the best solution for North Dakota.

The NDSU Extension Service has been doing great work quietly. Extension staff and their educational programs are recognized locally, but we promise to elevate the visibility of our programs and the agents and specialists who provide them. We invite you to connect with your local Extension agents to learn how the NDSU Extension Service is “Extending Knowledge. Changing Lives.”