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Serving: Central

On Extension’s 100th birthday, some reminiscences


I wonder if it’s a record of some kind — all the birthday cakes that are being cut, all the coffee, soft drinks, punch, and munchies that are being served across the nation today in observance of the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension Service.

The organization that has touched so many lives in so many ways still is going strong, reflecting not only the myriad changes in a continually evolving agriculture, but also adapting to new technologies and the lifestyles of an increasingly urban America.

Few organizations have been so intertwined, on a personal basis, with America’s growth and progress, from boots-on-the-ground advice to farmers on all aspects of crop production, to family nutrition, financial management, lawn and garden, livestock — it would be hard to think of any area of American life and interests that Extension has not been involved in.

In the almost 75 years that Delta Farm Press has been serving Mid-South agriculture, we’ve had a symbiotic relationship with Extension. Over the years, many Extension specialists have written articles for us — particularly in the pre-Internet era, when our multi-state publication afforded them a much wider audience than they could get through direct mail newsletters and other means of communication.

Extension personnel, from the top brass to the county agents and office staff, have always been helpful in providing information and assistance to our Farm Press editorial staff. As we expanded our reach, with Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press, and California-Arizona Farm Press (now Western Farm Press), covering 31 states from California around the Sunbelt to Maryland, the alliances and friendships with Extension made our content all the more informative … and our work all the more enjoyable.

That continues the case in today’s era of instantaneous, 24/7 websites, blogs, newsletters, and assorted other electronic media.

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Without rummaging through musty bound volumes of the thousands of issues published since I joined the company four decades ago, these are among those I remember in Extension:

—J. O. Hill, the affable, kindly Extension agent at Marianna, Ark., who generously worked with me on my very first in-the-field story for Delta Farm Press, and sent me home with a sack full of peaches and veggies. I treasured his friendship over the years. He is long gone. I never go to or through Marianna that I don’t think of him.

—Early era county agents, all who had forgotten more than I will ever know about the nuts and bolts of farming and were ever so patient with a newbie ag writer, all alas also long departed this life: Rob Lewis, at Clarksdale, Miss., courtly, laid back long before the term ever became cool; Hayes Farish at Tunica, Miss.; John McCaskill in Sunflower County, Miss. (his son, Brian, who favors his late father to an astonishing degree, now a State Farm Agent in my town); Steve Nelms, at Marks, Miss., who died of cancer just as he was starting his career (he was the brother of my in-another-lifetime ad manager, the late Bill Nelms, who went on to become, of all things, a banker, and himself died much too soon of cancer).

—Extension specialists who wrote for us and whose copy I edited week-in and week-out: Wayne Jordan, at Mississippi State University, who went on to become director of Extension at the University of Georgia; the late George Mullendore, also at MSU, who became a rock star in the world of cotton; Billy Moore, long retired from MSU Extension, but still working with Asian soybean rust; Tom Burch, Louisiana’s quieter, calmer counterpart to George Mullendore; Chuck Caviness, Arkansas Extension, whose seminars on soybeans had the fervor of an old-fashioned tent revival; Arkansas’ Bobby Huey, ever so patient in explaining rice culture to the hadn’t-a-clue writer who’d previously thought rice a crop of the Far East; Joe Scott, at Portageville, Mo., who was a fount of information about Bootheel agriculture, and U.U. Alexander, also in the Bootheel (I never was able to pry out of him what the initials U.U. stood for — not many people have one U name, let alone two); Mark Bryles, who wrote knowledgeably and succinctly of agriculture in northeast Arkansas; Tom McCutcheon at the Milan, Tenn., experiment station, who doggedly espoused the then alien concept of no-till for the Mid-South and lived to see its widespread adoption; John Bradley, who succeeded Tom, and further spread the no-till religion; Mack Young, Marks, Miss., whose grower meetings were some of the best-attended anywhere thanks to the some-of-the-best-barbecue-anywhere meals he provided; John Killebrew, Winona, Miss., who has been retired seemingly forever to golf and community/church service, and who, during his county agent career, gave new meaning to the words enthusiasm and perseverance; Ford Baldwin, Arkansas weed specialist, whose column has run almost as long as mine, and who still is in the pages of Delta Farm Press each week; Harold Breimyer, self-described farm boy, the distinguished Extension economist at the University of Missouri, a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about farm programs, some of which he’d worked on during his USDA years — he wrote cogently, lucidly, always with a touch of humor, about the issues of the day, and to the end was as down-to-earth, self-deprecating, and folksy as they come.

These are but a scant few of those in Extension with whom I’ve crossed paths, and who have been generous with their time, knowledge, and friendship. Their modern day successors are, as Extension embarks on its second century, continuing the tradition of service that has characterized the organization for the past 100 years.

Happy birthday, Extension. You’ve aged well, and served well.

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