As I write this, the economy’s still in the ditch – two wheels in the air and road flares strewn across the shoulder – and it’s unclear just when and if the tow truck might show up, or if we’re going to need to find a winch, a tractor or some horses (I’m betting all three).

Unsurprisingly, state and federal budgets are under the hatchet, and one of the sectors that’s seeing serious trimming is education, especially universities and cooperative extension. Cutting budgets isn’t without controversy, and tensions are high around the country. Tough times demand tough decisions, though. You know that firsthand, every day as a grower and business operator.

Also, as I write this, I’ve just returned from Penn State’s outstanding Ag Progress Days. Over three days, the university and cooperative extension hosts thousands of growers, farmers, equipment pros, educators and interested parties outside of State College, Pa., to share an amazing wealth of technical, practical and, most importantly, valuable information.

Dozens of educational sessions, demonstrations and tours were available to visitors. These were no charge to attendees, at least in the sense that no one had to buy tickets; however, there is always a cost, which in this case is one borne by taxpayers who support the extension programs and university.

The question is, do the ends justify the means? Can we be sure that what we’re spending as taxpayers to finance something like this is money well spent? Ultimately, is this value for value?

There are, no doubt, statistics to support whatever position you might want to take on the issue; that’s the nature of statistics. However, having taken part in several of the tours this year, it was reconfirmed to me that there is some exciting, valuable work being done in the research fields that will directly and positively impact your operations in the future. I can’t stress enough the value of these projects to our industry.

For example, on the high tunnel research and education tour, Mike Orzolek led groups twice each day to explain the diverse work he and his peers are doing with movable high tunnels, crop selection, equipment testing and more. The results of these projects will help you make more profitable decisions and will likely save you money – by saving you the trouble of discovering that certain crops won’t work, that certain styles of tunnels aren’t appropriate for your operation or that some mistakes are easily avoided.

That’s money well spent.

Everyone’s going to need to make sacrifices, at all levels, and that includes education and extension. At this point, nothing is too precious or dear to examine and evaluate. Cuts are required. However, history and results bear out the value of cooperative extension and university research. We would do well to make those cuts as delicately and exactingly as possible to ensure that our industry and the country continue to reap the benefits of a robust cooperative extension and university system.

It’s value for value.

Bob M. Montgomery