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Recruiting NDSU Extension agents not an easy task in the Oil Patch

As North Dakota State University extension agents enter retirement and leave their posts, employing new county educators to take their places is a lofty task, especially in the Oil Patch.

"Extension is very aware of the challenges in recruiting extension agents, as we have had many retirements in the last few years," Chris Boerboom, director of the North Dakota State University Extension Services in Fargo, told The Dickinson Press. "The challenges include competing with high private sector salaries, both in ag and oil, high home prices, high rental prices, and simply if any housing even exists."

Boerboom said his office is kept abreast of the issue because district directors work hand-in-hand with county commissioners to recruit and refill county extension agent positions.

Last year, Dunn County began advertising for a full-time extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Killdeer.

The extension agent would work with such programs as nutrition, health and food safety, human development and family financial resource management and the 4-H youth development program.

Becky Buchmann, Dunn County's NDSU extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, positions are opening up around the state.

According to the most recent combined directory for all county extension offices, there are about 10 total positions open in all 53 North Dakota counties.

Seven of the positions are in counties in the western part of the state, including four positions in Fort Berthold.

Dunn County Commissioner Reinhardt Hauck said if housing is the issue in finding extension agents, the state isn't likely to step in and offer a housing allowance.

Unfortunately, Boerboom said the extension office can't provide housing assistance to county agents either.

"We have a shared funding arrangement with each county to fund the agent's salary and benefits, support staff in the office and operating expenses," he said. "Sometimes a county may be limited in their funds to support a position, which limits salary. Other times, a county may have more resources and extension has matched those funds to add an additional agent. The housing issue is a challenge because extension isn't in a position to build or buy housing for employees. However, we are open to ideas."

Boerboom said NDSU Extension Service provides information and educational programs to help adults and youth enhance their lives and communities.

"Our programs range from agriculture to 4-H and youth to nutrition and families to communities," he said. "Your extension agent is your local connection to this research-based information and they adapt it to best fit local conditions. Our partnership with the counties is essential for the county extension offices.

"The NDSU Extension Service is committed to serving North Dakota citizens through extension agents at our county offices. These agents are supported by a network of area and state specialists. These direct and local connections are essential in delivering educational programs and partnering on projects."