AP NEWS

Ector, Midland agent roles restructured

February 22, 2019

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s ongoing battle with staff vacancies has pushed the education agency to innovate in order to address regional cost of living challenges faced by applicants.

AgriLife Extension officials hope merging agent responsibilities into fewer positions across Ector and Midland County as part of a proposed interlocal agreement is the answer.

AgriLife Extension allows a statewide network of county offices to address local needs through programming that educates on a range of topics including horticulture and water conservation. The agency is also home to 4-H, one of the largest youth development programs in Texas.

District Extension Administrator Rebel Royall said the goal with sharing agents between the Midland-Odessa offices is to create higher-paying positions and enhance existing programs.

Ector County Extension Agent Steve Paz compared the oilfield boom-bust cycle to a broken record and said the cost of living during industry peaks makes staff retention difficult.

“Some of these offices, especially Midland County, have been vacant on and off for the last 6-7 years - more off than on,” Midland County Extension Agent Jeff Floyd said.

Royall said both counties currently each have only one agriculture and natural resources agent, which limits the reach of services they can provide to the community.

“Our agents right now are spread very thin,” Royall said. “We need to fill positions and get them some help.”

Royall said both counties are put at a disadvantage without 4-H, horticulture and family and consumer science (FCH) agents. AgriLife Extension creates programs based on what the community determines are educational needs. Royall said volunteers have pushed to keep things like 4-H programs on track in the absence of agents, but he hopes this agreement can boost volunteers’ efforts by filling the agent roles.

Floyd said agents are critical to organizing volunteers and driving overall program direction.

“Maintaining a person in the position helps maintain the integrity of programs,” Floyd said. “There are some multi-county agents in areas where the population isn’t large enough to require more than one agent. A lot of rural counties have a single agent, like an agriculture and natural resource agent, and they do all the programming in that area. That’s not a new thing, but for an urban hub like Midland-Odessa this will be very interesting.”

Floyd said the interlocal agreement between Midland-Odessa will serve as a pilot for comparable areas where financial setbacks are also occurring throughout the state.

Ector County Commissioners approved the interlocal agreement between the two counties Feb. 12 but Royall said nothing is finalized yet. Royall said AgriLife Extension will aim to make Floyd the agriculture and natural resources agent and Paz the 4-H agent for both counties. The two remaining agent positions for horticulture and FCH will be posted after all paperwork for the agreement is completed.