From the mouths of farmers often comes wisdom.
I was reminded of this today writing a story for our Extension annual report. One quote by a central Alabama cattle producer and poultry farmer underscores a point I was trying to drive home in an earlier piece: the invaluable role Extension educators serve as catalysts.
“The Alabama Cooperative Extension system introduced me to it and I wouldn’t have found out about it until several years down the road,” says central Alabama poultry and cattle producer Robby Nichols. “It’s kind of gotten me started a little sooner than I would have.”
The “it” in this case was the GPS devise installed on his spreader truck by an Extension educator with money provided by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and the 50-cent Checkoff program.
At first glance, this may seem insignificant, but in these unusually lean times, a few years may be a critical factor in determining a producer’s long-term viability.
Innovation frees up time and, in many cases, labor — time and labor that, in turn, can be invested in other profitable activities, whatever these happen to be.
Within the last quarter century, that’s one of the realities that have been driven home to me as I’ve reported on farming: how the future of the family farm is as much bound up in cost-savings as it is in turning a profit.
To put it bluntly, 21st century farming has become for most producers an unremitting cost-efficiency audit.
As I mentioned last week, this accounts for why I remain optimistic about the relevance of the Cooperative Extension mission despite the enormous challenges we face.
Farmers are as plugged into the Internet as the rest of us. They are as readily exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking as the rest of us. Through social networking tools, they, much like the rest of us, can swap ideas with other farmers not only in their region but also a world away.
But they still need catalysts. They still need trained experts who see the larger picture and who can point them toward cost-effective solutions they previously haven not considered, whether because of time constraints or professional preoccupations.
Likewise, farmers, despite all this firsthand exposure to cutting-edge knowledge, remain at heart cautious business professionals, loathe to invest money in anything that could be needlessly time-consuming and cost-effective.
Like all of us from time to time, they have to be persuaded to take big leaps. In Nichols’s case, for example, he initially expressed qualms about using GPS, fearing that implementing this technology would prove too costly an investment in terms of all the time required to learn and implement the technology.
His agent, Ken Kelley, helped allay those concerns, serving as both a catalyst and an advocate, showing Nichols how relatively painlessly GPS could be adapted to his operation.
Kelley’s persuasiveness helped seal the deal.
That’s why I’m convinced that Extension educators, despite our acute budgetary challenges, are not going away.
We have too indispensable a role to play in pointing the way.