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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Extension at a Crossroads?

A recent article in the popular press has been circulated among Extension professionals that examines a 2009 Journal of Extension article (West, Drake, and Londo) entitled "Extension: A Modern Day Pony Express?" This article (http://deltafarmpress.com/news/brandon-columns-0211/index.html) provides a commentary on the relevancy of Extension programs today in an information age where clientele have various sources of information immediately at their disposal. In this Journal of Extension article (West, Drake, and Londo, 2009) the authors contend that Extension is at a crossroads.

These authors report (West, Drake, and Londo, 2009) that Extension began with a unique niche and an associated business model. The Pony Express could not adapt to change and became a relic of the American West. These authors assert that Extension is now potentially facing the same fate. However these authors (West, Drake, and Londo, 2009) report that Extension’s future has yet to be determined. The basic concept of Extension using objective, research-based information to help the public is of greater importance now than ever.

As your District Extension Administrator, it is clear to me that we should:

· Redefine our educational niche. (Serve traditional audiences and explore methods to engage new audiences.

· Ensure program relevance.

· Employ financial creativity to meet challenges associated with funding

Redefining our Educational Niche

The authors of this article report that Extension cannot be all things to all people. Texas AgriLife Extension Service has historically been successful because of our commitment to defined audiences such as agriculture producers, 4-H youth, families, low income families, diabetics etc. Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s traditional audiences are rapidly changing. Agriculture producers, youth, and families are bombarded with information sources that can be accessed immediately. Texas AgriLife Extension Service must employ strategies that provide our clientele with research based information such as:

· Electronic crop updates delivered to their smart phones rather than a turn row meeting

· Strengthen our efforts with crop and agriculture consultants

· Provide 4-H information related to interest utilizing social media

· Expand efforts such as Ranch TV or Dinner Tonight web based series.

Ensuring Program Relevance

County Extension Agents should utilize a program development process that provides a framework enabling them to identify and prioritize critical issues, develop educational programs and implement educational interventions to address these issues, then evaluate and interpret these programs. When engaging this program development process critical emphasis must be placed on interpretation of Extension programs. Texas AgriLife Extension cannot afford to be the best kept secret in a community.

Funding Challenges

It is imperative that we become more financially creative. Some examples that should be explored regarding the development of creative funding strategies are:

· Development of partnerships with municipalities.

· Development of fee based programs.

· Development of grants to fund specialized programs.

· Development of partnerships with school districts to deliver specialized youth programming.

· Development of partnership with community colleges to deliver specialized program in communities.

Extension represents the heartbeat of the land-grant university system. Texas AgriLife Extension will only continue to be as relevant in the future as it is today if we continually evolve as an agency. The future of Texas AgriLife Extension is bright but only if revolutionary thinking and action is employed by bold and progressive leaders who have the vision, courage, and capability to lead such change (Fehlis, 2005).