Is Extension Extinction Underway?
SOLID THIRD-PARTY DATA
Adapting and evolving in response to change has kept Bob Nielsen, Extension corn specialist and professor, Agronomy, Purdue University, effective, relevant and busy. "I know I'm not perfect, but I get enough feedback from my clientele that tells me I'm doing something right," said Nielsen.
In his career at Purdue, Nielsen has heard the charge that Extension is too slow to endorse new technologies and products, or that Extension is no longer as needed as it once was, given the information available from private sources of consultants, ag retailer sales agronomists, manufacturer reps and the Internet. He easily responds to the criticism.
"We believe the agronomic values of new technologies should be based on hard data that demonstrate consistent performance over a wide range of growing conditions," he said. "Too many of today's new technologies are adopted as forms of 'crop insurance' with little independent data to back them up."
As to the question of relevance, he cited the voluminous and aggressive marketing of crop inputs. "I believe my farming clientele need independent advice more than ever," said Nielsen.
When faced with a similar “relevance” query, Craig acknowledged that private information sources have multiplied. On the other hand they, even more than he and his counterparts, are specialized and focused, usually on the most valued customers. "They also often look to Extension specialists for training," he noted. "They don't have the time to work with everyone and have to target their high ticket customers. That isn't everyone. I think there is a big enough pie for everyone, and as we increase our knowledge base and specialties, it helps everyone."
BOTH PRIVATE AND PUBLIC INFO NEEDED
Sonny Ramaswamy, director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, has no doubt the needs are great enough to more than justify both private and public information providers.
"Having grown up in India, I was a direct beneficiary of American agriculture," said Ramaswamy. "One of the problems today is that people think that Monsanto or Dow or Pioneer has it all figured out. However, private enterprise is there to make money. They'll invest in corn and soybeans, but there are other issues, other endeavors where there isn't any money or not enough money to be made. The public needs to be involved."
Ramaswamy's 32-year career has included stints at Cornell, Michigan State, Mississippi, Kansas and, until recently, Oregon State University. This experience has made him uniquely well suited to oversee the federal role in funding and supporting Extension. It has also made him very, very concerned about people like himself with three or more decades in service to agriculture and nearing retirement.