Some farmers and 4-H volunteers are rallying against proposed cuts to the Cooperative Extension Service budget that they say could force Extension offices to close.
But a spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission said Friday that the cuts -- proposed by the secretary of education -- would not eliminate Extension and 4-H programs, but would allow them to operate more efficiently.
"The sky is not falling," said spokesman Jeffrey R. Welsh.
Extension officials believe the deep cuts are possible in a year where ruthless budget reductions have become the norm in a state with a half-billion-dollar deficit.
"It's a real possibility," said David L. Greene, interim director atthe Carroll Extension office.
On Wednesday, state Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery proposed two scenarios for cutting the University of Maryland System budget.
The Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station are part of the Maryland Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources (MIANR), which is part of the university system.
Dr. Aery proposes to:
* Cut $19 million, which is 3.5 percent, from the total university system budget of $544.7 million.
Of the total budget, $27.8 million goes to MIANR. She proposes that $4.2 million, or 15 percent of its budget, be cut.
* Cut $63.6 million, which is 11.7 percent, from the total budget. Of this, $14 million would be cut from MIANR, a 50 percent reduction in its budget.
If 50 percent of the budget is cut, "We go out of business. We close down," said Walter C. Bay, acting regional Extension Service director.
Extension agents provide educational group and individual programs to farmers, home owners and families, do soil testing and run 4-H programs, among other things.
The Ag Experiment Station does plant, animal, economic and social science research.
A 15 percent cut would mean some Extension offices would close and some employees would be laid off, Mr. Bay said.
Westminster grain farmer Donald Essich, 59, said he has used Extension advice and research to make farming decisions during 45 years in the business.
"I look upon Extension input as a furthering of my education," he wrote to Gov. William Donald Schaefer last week.
Peggie Roland of Westminster, a member of the Carroll Extension Advisory Council and a 4-H volunteer, said she is encouraging people to write to the governor and legislators. Carroll county has one of the three largest 4-H programs in Maryland with 1,200 members. "Twelve hundred livid parents are not easy to deal with, and that's only this county," Mrs. Roland said of the reaction the proposed cuts may generate.