Delmarva Farmer Columnists
Happy birthday wishes for Cooperative Extension (Oct. 21, 2014)
It is hard to believe but Cooperative Extension is 100 years old.
The Smith-Lever Act, which was passed in 1914, established the Cooperative Extension Service and I have to say, Happy Birthday Extension.
Many of you know, that I started my working career as a county agent in Kent County Del., and then later became a livestock specialist for the state of Delaware prior to joining the faculty at Delaware State University.
While I have no regrets about my career change, I have to admit that working for Cooperative Extension was one of the most rewarding times in my life.
There is something special about helping people and Cooperative Extension is all about helping people do a better job on their farms, with their livestock and in their lives.
I can also say that I never worked harder, put in more hours either.
One of the nice things about Cooperative Extension is that it is one place that you can go to get unbiased information from someone who is not trying to sell you something.
Please do not get me wrong on this: I am not saying that other sources of information are less accurate, but only that the folks at the Extension office are providing you research based information — often generated right in your own backyard.
If there are any problems with the system at the present time is that there has been an eroding of the funding for critical positions that enabled Extension agents to be at the cutting edge of addressing your weed, insect, cultural practices, ration balancing and animal health issues.
This lack of funding has made it difficult for universities to replace critical positions that generated the research information that is so vital to the agriculture community.
In some ways, I am often dismayed when the agricultural community does not scream, and scream loud when it is announced that a critical person is not going to be replaced.
Where are they going to get their information? If it is available elsewhere than I guess it is not worth the bother but in some cases, we have seen one state after another in a region give up specialists in areas needing support.
One critical piece of the Extension Service is the county agent. In some cases, we have seen an erosion of these folks too where a county may have to share an agent with another county or where the agent may have split duties being divided between one job and another.
For the system to work as efficiently as possible, you need to have a staff of agents and specialists.
The agents need to be a viable part of the community, gaining the trust of the agricultural producers and serving as a catalyst between the county and the university.
When the system works best, problems are identified in the county, the county agent makes the specialist aware of the issue and they in turn develop a research study, often a field-plot or field trial to investigate a possible solution to the problem.
Once the study is completed, the data are shared back with the county and surrounding area so others experiencing similar problems know what to do.
It takes a lot of support, a lot of communication and a dedicated staff for this to work the way it was intended.
In addition, it is critical that the other faculty and staff at the university understand the system and its importance to the state and region.
Unfortunately, far too many faculty at many of our universities today have no idea of why Cooperative Extension was formed and are clueless to its intended purpose.
So as we hit this milestone, I want to thank all the county agents and specialists whom I have known over the years.
Thank you for your dedication to the agricultural industry, for your tireless hours in the field and for your commitment to this great industry we all know and love.
FSA sets key dates in Farm Bill safety net programs (Oct. 21, 2014)