Funding Cuts Stretching KY Workers

Robbie Smith is more accustomed to offering planting advice than promoting exercise, but these days the horticulture agent is juggling both roles in Nelson County due to a backlog of vacancies in cooperative extension offices across Kentucky.

The job of providing home and health tips is usually handled by the local family consumer science agent. But that job has gone unfilled for about 18 months, forcing Smith and other agents to pick up the slack.

The University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service has been a staple in offering advice to Kentuckians on everything from gardening to canning vegetables to maximizing corn and soybean yields.

But the ranks of county agents have taken a hit as state funding for UK’s extension service shrank in the past three years. UK’s share of state appropriations allocated to extension agents was $12.3 million in 2011, down some 9 percent from $13.5 million in 2008.

UK Associate Dean for Extension Jimmy Henning says the extension service has 31 vacancies among its 411 state-supported county agent jobs.