Perhaps the famous picture of the old-time county extension agent visiting a farm with a 4-H member and seeing him work with his Guernsey heifer is a bit out of date. It's a nice reminder of times gone by. But it's far from indicative of how modern Extension educators have changed with the times to provide information and services their community needs.
Somewhere between when that picture was painted and today, many no longer contact their Extension agent, now called an educator, for help on mundane questions about crop or livestock production. Instead they access the Internet to get information, work with a seed or feed dealer who wants to provide information to cement his or her place as their seed or feed supplier, or visit with their equipment dealer.
That's too bad, because Extension educators still have a lot to offer. I recently chatted with several educators. The striking thing is that you can paint them all with a broad bush and say they spend most of their time filling out reports or answering questions from homeowners about apple scab if you want. But the truth is quite different in many cases. Many are engaged with producers in their community. Exactly what they do depends on what the community is like. They're just waiting and hoping you will contact them so they can work with you too. Here are a few examples I ran into recently.
I visited with Tamara Ogle about the dynamics of cash rent. The Cass County ag educator is part of the Purdue Land leasing team, and helped assemble a program on land leases, along with Paul Marcellino, Howard County, this fall.
"Farmers have flocked to these meetings," she says. "They seem to be taking to the idea that leases ought to be in writing, and even recorded in the courthouse. You don't have to spill all your details to record a lease."
There is one more lease program scheduled on Dec. 5 at Danville in Hendricks County.
Marcellino and I also visited about cover crops. He's helping coordinate a project based on a Clean Water Indiana grant that looks at adapting cover crops in north –central counties where adoption has been slow.
"We've still got lots of tillage here, but we have people who are beginning to see the value of cover crops," he notes. "I saw a field of radishes on flat ground the other day, and it was a neat sight!"
He works with five farmers in a five-county area to show off cover crops and collect information through testing about how nitrogen cycles through the system with a cover crop present.
Roy Ballard, Hancock County, and I had a totally different conversation this week. Ballard works with farmers who grow produce for farmers markets, and is also working with a grant that established a food hub in Greenfield to bring producers and consumers together. His big concern now is how this industry could change if new government rules go into effect.
"It could be devastating because it may require producers to decide between spending lots of money to stay in business or getting out," he says. "We're keeping a sharp eye on the rules as they are developed, and will communicate changes with farmers."
Sarah Speedy is getting her feet wet as a new ag educator in Johnson County. She is hosting a session on farm law next month. She has also attended safety training sessions on grain bin safety. Her mission right now is to find out what types of programming farmers in her area need most.
For Chris Parker, Morgan County, his work is heavy on forages. Pasture and hay production is big in his county, although he also keeps his hand in crop production topics. He also helps the local beef producer group hold a bull soundness check each year. Farmers bring bulls for a vet to evaluate to see if they are sound for breeding.
"If there's a need we try to meet it," Parker tells me.
These may not be traditional programs, but Extension is alive and well. If you haven't worked with your local Extension ag educator lately, or if you haven't even met them, make that a priority in the upcoming weeks. You might find you have a new source of information and advice right at your fingertips.