A provision in the 2008 Farm Bill – changing the way extension Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs are funded – is being challenged by the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA).

Last week, WSSA called on Congress to rescind a last-minute amendment to the Farm Bill and keep the current formula funding system in place for state IPM programs. “A competitive grant program for extension IPM simply won’t work,” explains Lee Van Wychen, science policy director for WSSA. “If the amendment stays in place, the IPM expertise and infrastructure built up over 30 years will be gone in a year.”

Under the current funding system, IPM monies are allocated to land grant universities in each state on a proportional basis. Traditionally, each state has received an average of $135,000 annually. This year’s USDA allocation for extension IPM, which also relies on private and state funding in most states, is expected to be $6.9 million. With the new funding model, individual universities would vie for IPM monies through competitive grants awarded by the ag secretary.

The result: Some states stand to lose IPM programs, says Van Wychen. “A major value of the system as it exists now is that each state has experts with specific knowledge and expertise about the pest and weed control issues unique to that state,” says Van Wychen. “With the funding change, all states wouldn’t be able to tailor training programs and workshops to meet the needs of farmers, crop advisors and homeowners.”

A major concern is that universities in smaller states wouldn’t be able to compete with larger, high-profile institutions in securing grants, says Darrell Deneke, extension coordinator for South Dakota IPM. Another is that competitive grants would be awarded on an annual basis, he says. “That would give a lot of inconsistency to programs. You wouldn’t know which programs were going to be in place from one year to the next.”

State IPM programs had already budgeted for FY 2009, which began on Oct. 1, before the last-minute Farm Bill change, WSSA’s Van Wychen notes. But now those programs will be without USDA support while waiting for the federal government to establish grant application guidelines, review proposals and make awards. By most accounts, federal money for state programs won’t be available again until next spring.

In the meantime, extension officials in some states say staff layoffs or terminations in IPM programs are likely. “We have begun to suffer what could be a permanent loss of expertise in our national extension IPM network,” says Van Wychen.

For more information, go to the Weed Science Society of America Web site at www.wssa.net.

How often have you used your local university’s IPM program recommendations or checked its pest updates on the Internet? If this service became spotty or disappeared, would that affect your pest management? Please comment below.