There’s a lot more to keeping a farm or ranch going year after year, generation after generation, than reading about it on the Internet. In a time when information is easier than ever to acquire and perhaps more difficult than ever to assess, a county extension program, backed by a state land-grant college, helps local ag producers sort through the flood of data and apply it to their own situations.
Although agriculture is no longer the primary economic driver of Montezuma County, it still defines the character of this area, and for many years, the county’s CSU Cooperative Extension Office has helped keep it going strong.
That office is now in danger. The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners voted, preliminarily, to defund the program, a budget decision that would effectively discontinue a wide range of services that benefit locals.
The commissioners’ beef seems to be with Tom Hooten, who has served as ag extension director for Montezuma County for six years ,and was an extension agent here for seven years before that. The program is not well run, the commissioners say.
Whether that concern is accurate, it seems to be a backhanded acknowledgment that the county values a well-run extension office. For that reason and several others, defunding the office would be the wrong action to take.
The commissioners mentioned complaints, and that’s not surprising, as nobody is perfect and no government program escapes criticism. Complaints should be investigated and balanced with the comments of those who have appreciated Hooten’s work. Since the commission’s vote, public response has seemed to favor him.
The county’s move to pull funding from the office may just be a way to get rid of Hooten. That would be unfortunate, but not as ill-advised as getting rid of the whole office and all its programs.
There is more to the extension office than Hooten’s position. Montezuma County provides space for the office and funds two positions. The majority of Hooten’s salary is paid by Colorado State University; Montezuma County contributes $13,700 annually. That alone casts doubt on whether the commissioners’ problems with Hooten should be termed “a personnel matter.”
If the issue between Hooten and the commissioners cannot be worked out, the solution is hardly to discontinue all the services that the extension office provides. The most visible of those, because it involves the most people at once, is probably the 4-H program that culminates every year at the Montezuma County Fair. Many, many young people have benefited from that program, and it’s just one of the ways the county extension office brings time-tested skills and up-to-date information to the people of this county.
Ideally, the commissioners will communicate clearly what they believe is wrong and Hooten, in conjunction with CSU’s network, can work to resolve the issues. Failing that, staffing the office differently is likely a possibility.
Let’s hope the commissioners really do not intend to discontinue all cooperative extension services for the whole county.