LAKE CITY — The future of agriculture education is presently looking uncertain in Missaukee County.
Two vacant Michigan State University Extension positions were fueling the uncertainty, following the death of dairy educator Kathy Lee in May and the retirement of crop and grazing educator Jerry Lindquist last fall.
“It really leaves this area with a decrease in ag coverage,‘ said MSU Extension District 6 Coordinator Shari Spoelman during a Missaukee County finance committee meeting last Thursday. “And it’s big.‘
Lee was based in Missaukee County and Lindquist was based in Osceola County.
MSU Extension, which provides agriculture and agribusiness education statewide — among other educational services, like 4H and nutrition programs — usually gets financial support from Missaukee County. It’s one of the few discretionary line items in the county’s budget, and county officials in 2018 examined a proposal to cut or reduce the program.
During September’s finance committee meeting, that financial support for Extension looked uncertain once again, as commissioners considered whether to renew an Extension contract.
Missaukee County Commissioner Frank Vanderwal said he had recently met with an Extension leader and had informed them that the county struggled to justify spending $40,000 a year on Extension services.
Spoelman told commissioners she thought it would be a couple of months before she had an answer from leadership regarding hiring new educators and that she anticipated being able to replace one, but not both, educators.
“I’m working really hard to get that position replaced,‘ Spoelman assured commissioners.
Commissioner Star Hughston said he thought the county should stop providing funding to Extension if an educator doesn’t return to the county. Commissioner Hubert Zuiderveen voiced a similar sentiment.
“If we don’t get some bodies, or a body, I don’t think we’d spend as much money,‘ Zuiderveen said.
But yesterday afternoon, commissioners approved the memorandum of understanding that continues MSU Extension services in Missaukee County for another year.
The county isn’t entirely without Extension agricultural services; other educators from around the state can provide advice to area farmers.
“I do want you to know it’s not a total void out there,‘ Spoelman said last week. A dairy educator based in Oscoda County has helped out, she said. “We’re keeping in touch with the dairies.‘
Agriculture educators aren’t designated to any one county — the memorandum of understanding says the $41,308 from Missaukee County to Extension would pay for a 4H coordinator, while educators would be housed in county offices “as needed‘ — the county historically had someone local.