(Editor’s note: The following article was provided by Eileen Coite and written by Justin Moore, NCSU Extension Communications, regarding the strategic plan for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. The plan will be implemented in all 101 Extension centers across North Carolina, and changes will take place over the next 22 months. At the end of this article, Coite elaborates more on how this will affect Sampson County Cooperative Extension.)
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State University announced a strategic plan for restructuring the century-old organization by targeting its strengths, improving access to services across the state and refocusing resources to support its refined core areas. Dr. Joe Zublena, director of the Extension Service at N.C. State, presented the plan to Extension employees across the state via a webinar on Aug. 12.
“We’re better aligning our resources and refocusing on three core areas: agriculture, food and 4-H youth development,” said Zublena. “These are the areas where we are most needed, best equipped to provide solutions, and can make the most impacts on North Carolina’s communities and economy.”
The Extension Service has experienced federal and state funding reductions of $13 million since 2008 and a total of $22 million since 1991. During that time, the organization has permanently lost 157 county and campus-based positions through attrition. Yet Zublena points to proactive, positive opportunities as a primary factor in the restructuring.
“The Cooperative Extension System celebrated its centennial this year, which presented a unique opportunity not only to recognize our historical accomplishments, but also to evaluate our operations and envision long-term goals to improve how we serve our clients going forward,” said Zublena. (Learn more about N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Centennial.)
“At the same time, North Carolina is experiencing an agriculture industry boom – it’s the state’s leading industry at $77 billion – and we’re ideally positioned to step up and help the state achieve its goal of growing agriculture to $100 billion.”
As part of the plan, the Extension Service will maintain its presence in each of the 101 local Extension centers across the state (including every county and the Eastern Band of Cherokee). Each local center will now be offered the same base staffing model, including agents in agriculture, 4-H and family & consumer sciences (FCS), as well as a support specialist. One of the base programmatic positions will also serve as County Extension director.
Additional agriculture agents will be strategically distributed throughout the state where most needed based on county statistics, including the number of farm operators, population and agriculture cash receipts. Extension will seek a 50-50 funding match with local governments on all base positions.
At present, some counties are without a base level of access to Extension through agents because of funding reductions over time. The new plan intends to address this issue at a local level, as well as add regional expertise through area agents specialized in commodities and specific issues to which Extension can bring expertise.
“An essential objective throughout this process was to ensure that the public continues to have access to trusted, research-based information,” said Zublena. “By offering every local office the same core expertise, we’re improving and better targeting our services across the state to help improve the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians.”
The three core program areas of agriculture, food and 4-H youth development include multiple sub-programs and services. For example, agriculture programs will consist of consumer/commercial horticulture, livestock and traditional agriculture; food programs include food safety, nutrition and food preservation; and 4-H youth development programs will include life skills, leadership and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, among others. Statewide flagship programs like local foods will fall under each of the three core areas.
Cooperative Extension is a collaboration between the federal, state and local governments, as well as among land-grant universities across the nation. While the Extension Service at N.C. State partners with N.C. A&T State University as a fellow land-grant university, this plan reflects changes only for N.C. State Extension.
“The success of this model will depend largely on the partnerships we’ve forged with local governments and N.C. A&T State University,” said Zublena. “We strongly value those relationships and what we’ve accomplished over the years, and we will continue as a strategic partnership to provide stellar service across the state.”
“We plan to invest in modern technology while maintaining a high level of personal service and client access to our agents and specialists through field days, farm visits and the like,” said Zublena. “In the future, we envision building even stronger relationships with clients by integrating today’s tech advancements with our traditional onsite services.”
Extension also is introducing strategies for recruiting and retaining agents, including increasing starting salaries, expanding the agent career ladder, optimizing employee onboarding and enhancing training opportunities for employees. The plan also calls for the creation of integrated program teams around commodities and specific issues, like blueberries or food safety, to align Extension, research and client resources and promote program growth and innovation.
The strategic plan is the culmination of extensive research and discussions, including 2,000 participants at 14 public listening sessions; more than 600 employees at Extension’s State Conference in 2013; eight state Extension systems that have undergone change; and 179 county commissioners and managers that responded to surveys assessing their needs. Extension administration also appointed a Visioning Team made up of about 45 employees, stakeholders and community partners who helped craft the strategic plan for the organization’s future.
Learn more about the strategic plan and restructuring at
As you can see, our Centennial year is bringing with it major changes to implement. We will learn more as the plan evolves over the next several months.
In Sampson County, the strength of our agriculture will pave the way for our future, as it has over the last 100 years. You read above that additional agricultural agents would be placed in counties with a large agricultural base, and we all know that is certainly the case in Sampson. That said, in Sampson, we will continue to have an agriculture staff to fully meet these needs, while continuing to provide a well rounded 4-H program, and refine our Family & Consumer Science program. As the plan comes together, more details will be presented as to refining our strategy to meet the needs of Sampson County farmers and citizens.
For more information about the Extension strategic plan, feel free to give me a call at 910-592-7161.
Eileen Coite is the director of the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center.