Assessing the needs

Published 10:21 pm Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pike County hosted the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s “Grassroots Needs Assessment” meeting at Cattleman Park Wednesday.

Grassroots Needs Assessment meetings will be held in all 67 counties to determine the most important areas for Extension System programs and events for the next five years.

The Pike County event attracted Extension System staff members, volunteers and users who also participated in a follow-up survey that will be used as a guide for planning local programs and events.

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Brandon Dillard, Pike County Extension interim coordinator, presented 14 topic areas that have the potential to impact Extension programs.

“Setting priorities involves deciding what is most important to do and which needs will not be addressed or will be addressed with limited effort,” Dillard said. “The number one priority, as expressed by the assessment survey, was health and wellness across the lifespan.”

Given the facts, Dillard said it’s understandable that major emphasis would be placed on health and wellness.

“Heart disease, cancers, high blood pressure, strokes and sleep apnea are Alabama’s major health problems and we spent $1.32 billion on obesity related health issues in Alabama during the 1998-2000 period,” Dillard said.

“Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in Alabama. Alabama ranks second nationally in adult obesity and sixth nationally for ages 10-17. Two-thirds of adults in Alabama are overweight.”

Sustainable agricultural and forestry systems ranked second among those who participated in the local survey. “Global food production will fall short of population growth over the next 25 years,” Dillard said. “The current prediction by some scientists is that more food will have to be produced in the next 40 years than has been produced in the past 10,000.”

Dillard added that the challenge for the nation’s producers to continue feeding the world and sustaining the environment will be solved in part by technology improvements, unbiased university-based research and training and the adoption of production cultures for a changing environment.

Water quality and quantity, safe and secure food supply and viable small-farm businesses were ranked third, fourth and fifth respectively in the Pike County survey.

Dillard said Alabama is blessed with 1.3 million acres of surface water. Groundwater from eight major aquifer systems supplies about half of the drinking water for the state.

“Even with our abundant water resources and rainfall, Alabama has droughts about every 12 years, which may last from one to seven years,” Dillard said. “Droughts, population growth, climate change, aquifer depletion and competition for water underscore the need for wise planning for the future well-being of our state.”

The quality of the water supply is threatened by the same factors.

Alabama faces a double threat of its safe and secure food supply from food borne illness and limited access to healthy food.

Dillard said Alabama ranks 39th in the nation in food insecurity, which is a term referring to the lack of money and other resources that prevent access to adequate food.

The survey indicated that there is local concern about the future of small farms in Pike County. “About 92 percent of farms in Alabama are classified as small,” Dillard said. “The average age of the Alabama farmer is 55.4 years and there are three times as many farmers over the age of 65 as there are under the age of 35. Educational development and mentoring will be essential to help new small farmers develop and remain viable.”

Educational programs that focus on new technological advancement, farm resources and management skills are needed to keep small farms functioning. Education will help new farmers remain viable.