Commonwealth Journal

April 30, 2014

Extension Service will be celebrating 100th anniversary

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The Pulaski County Cooperative Extension Service on May 8 will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Extension services, triggered by passage in 1914 of the Smith-Lever Act. 
The Act provided funding for outreach endeavors at land-grant universities to expand vocational, agricultural, and home demonstration programs in rural America. Land grant universities in Kentucky are the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University.
“We want all our clientele and people with whom we work to join us at the Extension office between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on May 8,” said Richard Whitis, agricultural Extension agent for Pulaski County. “We’ll have cake and punch for everybody.”
“So many people don’t know what we do,” said staff assistant Mary McAdoo. The planned celebration on May 8 will be educational, showing slides of work and services performed by the Extension Service.
Exact date that Pulaski County Cooperative Extension Service was formed is lost in antiquity. However, the late Hugh Hurst, called the “Baron of Agriculture” who came here as Extension agent in 1944, said at the time Pulaski County was known as the “burial ground for county agents.” In other words, an agent didn’t last very long.
“There were two paved roads -- U.S. 27 and Ky. 80 -- in 660 square miles. The job of county agent was a road-weary assignment,” said Hurst.
Hurst took the county agent’s job for $1,600 a year. During 34 years as county agent, he assuaged growers’ fears when Southern Corn Leaf Blight threatened the county’s agricultural economy. He comforted farmers when dreaded blue mold paled and crinkled burley leaves. He convinced farmers that alfalfa was a high-energy feed and the alfalfa weevil could be controlled. He supervised the Green Pastures Program with Ky. 31 fescue.
Hurst persuaded many dairy farmers to build silos, drastically enabling them to increase the number of cattle. If a farmer couldn’t afford an upright silo, Hurst showed him how to construct a less-expensive bunker silo. 
Hurst advocated artificial insemination in cattle and was instrumental in getting Southern Belle Dairy to locate in Somerset. There were 262 dairy farms in Pulaski County when Hurst ended his tenure as county Extension agent. He was a major player in getting a tobacco market in Somerset.
Keenan Turner succeeded Hurst in 1977 and Whitis became county agent in 2004. Turner faced and Whitis is facing a changing agricultural climate that sees a rapid decline in the number of family farms, a marked reduction in dairying, and perhaps most shockingly, disappearance of the traditional tobacco market. 
Razed and gone are sprawling tobacco warehouses on University Drive where farm trucks, loaded with burley, waited in long lines to sell tobacco before Christmas. In their place are a senior citizens’ complex now under construction and a planned housing development.
Silenced is the chant of the tobacco auctioneer. Financially missed is receipt of the long-awaited tobacco check that paid the mortgage and bought Christmas gifts. And, nostalgically, only a sweet memory remains of the greasy spoon, but tasty warehouse restaurant.
But the work of today’s Extension Service goes on, offering more and different types of services, including:
• On-farm research test plots.
• Soil and forage testing.
• Plant disease diagnostic services.
• Pesticide certification.
• Working with county fair livestock shows and local cattlemen’s associations.
• Financial management and budgeting.
• Health and wellness programs.
• Youth programs and child care training.
• School enrichment programs.
• Master Gardener programs.
Whitis pointed out that the Extension Service strives to help people improve their lives through an informal educational process with up-to-date research-based information for all clientele. 
The Extension Service provides educational programs for farmers, agribusinesses, youth and 4-H members, Whitis noted. Extension homemaker clubs, civic clubs and community development groups are planned and implemented according to needs and interests in the community, Whitis added.
“Through our network of agents and specialists, we translate university research into practical, useful information and help put that knowledge to work at the farm, at the job site, in the home and community,” said Whitis.
In addition to Whitis, agents at the Pulaski County Cooperative Extension Service are: Edith Lovett, Family and Consumer Sciences; T.J. Adkins and Chaquenta Smith, both 4-H; Beth Wilson, horticulture; Sheila Childers and Mary McAdoo, both staff assistants; Lisa Stevens, receptionist; Brenda Williamson and Allison Taylor, both EFNEP nutrition assistants.