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What is the future of 4-H?
Hill: UGA proposal to cut 4-H program a power play
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Bulloch County 4-H agent LeAnna Deal gives the 4-H Club at Bulloch Academy a lesson about Vidalia onions during a meeting Wednesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

     Sen. Jack Hill said Wednesday that proposals by the University of Georgia to eliminate 4-H as a result of massive budget cuts proposed by the state is nothing more than a "power play," and said "4-H and the Cooperative Extension Service are going  to be OK."
    Talk about slashing the highly popular educational program for grade-school students has people rumbling in protest across the state. Several Facebook groups surfaced Tuesday and Wednesday generating support for 4-H and asking people to contact their legislators to protest the idea.
    But Hill said UGA officials reacted poorly to proposed budget cuts and threatened to cut what legislators' constituents valued most. The move was a "slap in the face" for legislators, he said.
    The "4-H program is going to be OK," he said. "That and the Cooperative Extension Service is not going to suffer any more cuts than any agency."
    Bulloch County 4-H Leader Lee Anna Deal said cutting 4-H would be targeting something "near and dear to some people's hearts." The idea of shutting down the Cooperative Extension Service and its 4-H program is upsetting to her - not only because it would cost her a job, as well as three others locally - it would be a crushing blow to 4-H students, local farmers and their families.
    If UGA eliminated 4-H, "1,400 youth currently involved in Bulloch County 4-H would no longer have the opportunity to learn leadership, citizenship, and life skills," she said.
    It would mean 70 in-school 4-H Club meetings would no longer be held.  Junior and Senior 4-H Clubs-involve 100 youth in 7th-12th grade; Project SAFE Shotgun and Archery teams involve more than 60 youth.  Over 50 student are involved in 4-H livestock projects, including members of the 4-H Horse Club, she said.
    The 4-H program is more than just showing livestock and learning homemaking skills, she said. The program encourages learning about leadership, citizenship and other skills as students become involved in various projects. They keep records of their progress and many create  mini-booths" that are displayed at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair each year, showing what  they learned through the program.
    "Agriculture is Bulloch County's number one industry," Deal said. "These cuts will be felt our local community and will have long-term impact on ability to sustain a profitable, viable, and competitive agriculture industry.
    The 4-H program falls under the umbrella of the Cooperative Extension Service, which offers services to farmers and homemakers, including soil sampling and offering non biased advice and information about farmers programs and chemicals used.
    UGA's proposal to include the Cooperative Extension Service in their first round of cuts in unacceptable, she said. "These cuts will also limit the support Cooperative Extension can give to emerging sectors like bio-fuel development, water protection, sustainable crops and food, and further development of environmental stewardship practices."
     According to the Associated Press, many rural legislators  were concerned Tuesday about the possible elimination of the 4-H program, which is headquartered at the University of  Georgia.
    Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, said 4-H was in danger of becoming a pawn in the budget battle. "It appears that 4-H ... is expendable," he said. "I hope you and the Board of Regents will consider the impact of that as you go forward."
    But University of Georgia President Michael Adams said he has worked hard to support the 4-H, but could not guarantee the program would not be affected. "I'm all for 4-H, but sooner or later you have to deal with realities. There are no cuts left that we want to make. We are down to very difficult decisions."
    Hill said UGA officials are just using 4-H as leverage to protest the proposed budget cuts. "4-H members, farmers and their families can rest assured there will continue to be a 4-H and Cooperative Extension Service," he said. The situation "has spun out of control."
    Vendora Cobb, who worked with 4-H for 34 years in Screven and Emanuel Counties, said cutting the program would be a shame.
    "It's hard to imagine not having it," she said. "There are so many kids who had never been out of the county until they took a 4-H trip. With 4-H, they have so many more opportunities than any other organization. It's not just cows and cooking - it has grown to be so much more."
    Whoever proposed cutting the program "doesn't know what 4-H is," she said. "They think eggs come from the grocery store."
    Heather Merritt, whose daughter Torie is an active 4-H member, said "It's a shame when our representatives automatically look to our teachers and children in an effort to balance out their budget shortcomings instead of managing their budgets like everyday households in America do.  They keep trying to take away freedoms and liberties in our children's future, and its time to say, enough."
    Her daughter "really enjoys the creative outlet and unlimited potential 4-H affords he," she said.  "She loves Lee-Anna Deal's enthusiasm, creativity and realism in the classroom.  It's a shame that a program which decreases high school dropout rates would even be discussed as a potential 'easy fix' for their deficit troubles."
    But Hill said UGA officials are just " trying to rev people up" and said any proposed budget cuts - to programs like 4-H or to colleges and universities - will be something everyone can live with. "We're going to find a way it will work."