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When a Single New York State Job Delivers a Million Dollars in Benefits

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I write a blog called Friend of the Farmer, but I have never met better friends of farmers than Cornell Agricultural Cooperative Extension staffers. Their work has been going on for over a century, since the founding of land grant universities with a charge of "broad-based education and public benefit."

Now one group at Cornell is being threatened with the budget ax: The New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM). That's very bad news for us, because IPM saves way more than it costs, promotes sustainability, and protects us and our children from toxic chemicals.

Farmers have so many things working against them: weather, disease, fickle consumers, cranky chefs, and overseas producers selling below cost. But ag extension agents give them a fighting chance of finishing the year in the black.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) has 170 faculty and academic staff working collaboratively with 400 locally employed professional extension educators and 40,000 volunteers. "But it only works," says Helene Dillard, the director of the CCE, "if you have a willing partner on the farm. As an ag agent you need to build respect and trust in the community." That doesn't happen overnight; those good relationships are a big part of the success story.

In the budget proposed by Governor Paterson, The New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM), which has already been cut by more than a third, will be completely eliminated. "Zero-funded" is the term bureaucrats prefer to use. But make no mistake: once a program is zero funded, the likelihood it will ever come back is... zero.

The IPM program saves millions of dollars for farmers and consumers and keeps thousands of tons of pesticide out of our water, soil and food. IPM achieves these amazing results through field-tested tools like biological controls, biological diversity, crop rotation, breaking pest life cycles, and site selection. During last year's tomato blight, for example, IPM advised using liquid copper, a traditional--and organic--solution.

IPM staffers cost the State $923,000 per year under the current budget. That's an average of $37,000 per staffer. Federal and foundation resources provide a multiplier effect of as much as 3 to 1 for every state budget dollar.

Let's estimate that IPM is worth $1,000 per year per farmer for New York's 36,000 farmers. That's $36,000,000 in profit protection. A single IPM staffer delivers $1.4 million in value to New York's ultimate small businesses--our local farmers.

Here are some reasons we need IPM:

  • 20 soybean growers in Jefferson, Wayne and Seneca counties saved $700,000 thanks to a hands-on teaching program on aphids.
  • IPM showed groundskeepers in New York's 699 school districts how "intensive overseeding" dramatically cuts herbicide use. The impact? $250,000 each year and protecting our children's health.
  • Apple grower Tre Green of Clinton County used IPM's disease forecasts to stay on top of diseases like apple scab, spraying only if IPM's forecasts show a strong likelihood of disease. Financial impact? Up to $2 million per year--for one farmer.
It would be ludicrously pound-foolish to eliminate these jobs. Remove the support and things crumble fast. IPM weather stations and forecasting go out the window. Farmers learn too late about pests and are forced to use more toxic pesticides to save their crops. Municipalities spray more. Did we mention that bed bugs are staging a vigorous comeback in New York?

It doesn't have to happen. It shouldn't happen. And you can do something about it.