A few weeks ago I was talking with a farmer, and one of his comments stuck with me. ‘You know that farmers don’t always call Extension for production information, don’t you?’ That caught me a little off guard, and it got me thinking. Yes, I know farmers get their info from a lot of sources, and that’s a good thing. I started my career in Tobacco Extension, conducting field tests, collecting data, and sharing it in meetings and in written form. Maybe that job spoiled me a little bit because I got to meet and learn from farmers, extension personnel, and ag business reps from all across west Kentucky and some in west Tennessee. We all learned from each other. My experience there led me to believe this was the way things should work.
That thread continued through my jobs in the ag industry. Whether you were a farmer, extension rep, or an ag industry rep, you attended field days, winter meetings, and made it a point to network with others. Because no matter who you are or how much you already know – there’s always more to learn. If you’re not leveraging all the resources out there, you may miss out on something that’s going to improve your bottom line. That goes for extension, ag businesses, and farmers alike.
One of my distant cousins back in McLean County pioneered a market prep system to replace hand-tying of dark tobacco in the late 90’s. He shared the design with extension and industry, who turned around and shared it with producers in Kentucky and Tennessee. The result was it helped many tobacco producers simplify market prep and save labor costs. Some people still call this system for flaking dark tobacco ‘the Kelly box’, after its inventor and one of the best dark tobacco producers I’ve ever known, Mr. Kelly Troutman.
This isn’t to say that everything you hear and read is going to be right for your operation. Your management style and goals may be different than others, so everything is not going to fit. But if you’re asking questions and looking, you’ll likely find ways to improve your own operation.
Another way I try to stay informed is reading a lot of trade journals. It’s not quite the same as calling up my ag business connections, but I learn and ask more questions after reading through these. And I don’t have to travel that far to gain a whole lot of new knowledge.
Many of the questions I get as an extension agent come from beginning farmers. A great deal of time is spent on answering questions about navigating tax exemptions; explaining resources that all farmers need (like a farm serial number); directing people to other agencies when applicable; and the ever popular subject of cost-share programs. But experienced farmers still call and ask questions, and it still helps me learn, too. And that’s good for everybody.