Dean's Vision For A New Extension Model At University Of Nebraska

Chuck Hibberd plans to ramp up on-farm research, youth programs and focus on team and systems approaches.

Published on: Apr 5, 2013

Chuck Hibberd came home to Nebraska in October as UNL's new dean and director of Extension. The Lexington native plans to expand UNL Extension's outreach and its programs.

"To fulfill Extension's promise to the citizens of Nebraska, we have to continue to ramp it up," says the native of Lexington. "The Extension model has changed. Our educators aren't generalists any more who try to be all things to all people. With the complexity of agriculture today, we can't afford to be generalists."

Hibberd's vision includes working more closely with farmers in on-farm research trials; Extension educators that are more focused in targeted areas such as crop or livestock production; more emphasis on youth programs, especially 4-H; and continuing to have a local presence throughout Nebraska for producers and rural communities.

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE. Chuck Hibberd, UNL dean and director of Extension, says the Extension model of the future will include more focus on "system approaches" for crops and natural resources.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE. Chuck Hibberd, UNL dean and director of Extension, says the Extension model of the future will include more focus on "system approaches" for crops and natural resources.

"We are delivering unbiased, research-based information, but through a different model today," says Hibberd who came to UNL after five years as Extension director at Purdue University. "It's co-discovery and co-learning."

Nearly 75 on-farm crop research projects planned for 2013 will result in valuable information in partnership with farmers on their land and under their conditions, he says.

Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice Chancellor Ronnie Green announced in February that UNL will hire 36 new faculty as part of its investment in agriculture and natural resources. One-third of those positions will be in Extension.

One of several areas to be beefed up is 4-H. Seventy of the 85 county Extension offices in Nebraska have an Extension 4-H staffer, but Hibberd says there will eventually be one  in every office. "One in three age-eligible youth in Nebraska is in 4-H. No other state comes close to that. In the past, Extension educators were half-time production and half-time 4-H and that was too much for them. 

The "systems" approach to crop and livestock production is becoming another area of emphasis. "As one example, we will hire someone who will develop a dryland cropping systems approach in the Panhandle, someone who will incorporate multiple factors in to the system, including varieties, seeding rate, herbicides, pesticides, row-spacing, conservation and crop residue."

Other potential new Extension positions will be in water resources, water economics and the water policy arena.

In the Extension beef area, future faculty staff hires will have roles in beef production systems, crop residue use and genetic improvement, among others.

Combined, those goals mesh with goals of the UNL's overall agriculture emphasis of food, fuel and water, Hibberd says.

"We aren't producing commodities like soybeans, corn or cattle," he says. "We're positioning Nebraska to be the epicenter of producing food for a world that must feed 9 billion people in 30 to 40 years."

Hibberd, who replaced Elbert Dickey as dean and director of Extension at UNL, led the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff for 12 years. That was prior to taking the Extension dean's position at Purdue in 2007.

He received his undergraduate degree in animal science at UNL. He then earned his master's and PhD degrees at Oklahoma State University in beef cattle production.

Upon obtaining his PhD, Hibberd served on the OSU animal science faculty for 12 years.