I take my county Extension agents for granted.
As I listened earlier this week to a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist tell me how his daily workload has changed, I could hear in his voice something was missing.
“I’m trying to adjust as best I can,” Zac Erwin, who works out of Adair County, explains. “Farmers will call and ask, ‘Can you swing by sometime?’ It is hard to say, 'No, I can’t.' That is really tough, not to be able to visit them.”
Zac traveled around a lot into northeast Missouri across several counties before the coronavirus outbreak. He’d check pastures for weeds, look over cattle for pink eye or lice, and stop at farms to just talk.
“That is something I really miss,” he adds. “Extension is about being among the people and understanding their needs and being able to help them. This restraint, while I get it, I don’t care for it. I hope we get back to normal soon.”
In agriculture, we typically say we are the best at self-isolation. Shoot, I’ve written that very statement. But are we really? Perhaps we get so caught up in our routines that we miss recognizing those individuals who drop by our farms, like our Extension specialist. We take for granted they will always be able to visit until they can’t.
While agriculture is considered “essential,” university professionals who serve agriculture are not. The University of Missouri system ordered that Extension specialists should not visit farms during the COVID-19 outbreak. Most, like Zac, are finding other ways to connect, such as Facebook, Twitter and cellphones.
Our conversation got me thinking about my friend and MU Extension agronomist Rusty Lee. The man lives for conversations with farmers. He has field days and meetings, sometimes, I think, just to bring people together to talk.
Rusty is the first one to reveal his successes and failures. But he has manner about him that allows others to share. He creates a judgment-free zone for farmers, something these farmers count on during the year. But Rusty is always one phone call away, still listening.
Then there are the MU Extension 4-H youth specialists like my own Carey Benne. She loves kids. I mean, I love my own kids and a few others, but Carey seems to love them all. While she can’t hold in-person meetings, she is constantly interacting with them on Facebook.
She tries to encourage those clubbers when Teen Conference is canceled and shares her heart. “I sure am missing spending time with them!!” she writes. And then she turns around and asks for eggs and beef for the elderly population of our community who are hurting during this pandemic.
In all my years of interacting with Extension specialists across Missouri and the country, I find a common trait — they have a servant’s heart. Let’s face it, they don’t work for university Extension to get rich.
In fact, many could be paid more for their talents in the private sector, but still they stay. The coronavirus shines a light on why. They love working with and caring for farmers and ranchers and kids.
I’m sure you, too, know of Extension specialists like Zac, Rusty and Carey. So, here’s a big THANK YOU from all of us in the agriculture industry for the work our Extension partners are doing during this crisis.
Thanks for caring for rural America.