Extension Has Always Been a Two-Way Street

Jack Payne
Jack Payne

By Jack Payne

I met Jackson County Farm Bureau board member Mack Glass almost as soon as I started my job at the University of Florida. He welcomed me to the Sunshine State by asking me when I would get an Extension expert in forage management for the Panhandle.

Then he helped me get that expert. Mack, a member of FFB’s Beef Advisory Committee, was among the cattlemen who walked the halls of the Capitol to advocate for funding for new scientists specializing in livestock. I included the Panhandle position on our wish list because of Mack.

The Legislature funded it. Mack then came to the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences North Florida Research and Education Center for a seminar by a promising job candidate.

After Jose Dubeux finished, Mack again introduced himself with a question for his new acquaintance. Could he make perennial peanut grow in a bahiagrass pasture?

That could save thousands in fertilizer costs. Also, perennial peanut could help keep more nitrogen in the soil and away from the water below. Running a century-old family ranch, Mack takes pride in caring for the land and demonstrating to a skeptical public that ranches provide open space, wildlife habitat, pollinator health, flood control and groundwater recharge.

USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education initiative funded Jose’s work putting perennial peanut down in strips at Cherokee Ranch and three other ranches and attending to it so it spread to the entire pasture. It has helped innovators like Mack overcome one of the highest hurdles to adopting a new technology – the upfront investment.

It’s an important advance in Jose’s larger campaign to turn the Panhandle into a place where cattle can graze year-round. That would produce staggering savings on feed costs.

Jose’s success with grants means he has graduate students he can deploy to Cherokee or other ranches. And Mack can ask Jose for help at the community recreational fields while Mack’s grandkids and Jose’s children are at a game.

Dr. Jose Debeux and Mack Glass at Cherokee Ranch in Marianna
Dr. Jose Debeux and Mack Glass at Cherokee Ranch in Marianna

Jose knows that in every one-on-one relationship, he is UF/IFAS, and Mack is the farming community, and that by serving Mack, he’s serving the industry. Jose the researcher discovers and innovates in the lab and on the Cherokee Ranch. Jose the state Extension specialist takes those discoveries to the farm, to field days, to online how-to documents and to Farm Bureau events.

The connection between IFAS research and Extension is seamless when it’s in the hands of a scientist who’s a master of both. The connection between the IFAS research agenda and Farm Bureau members’ needs is strongest when a supporter and user of science such as Mack Glass partners with a solutions-minded and service-oriented faculty member such as Jose Dubeux.

Jose’s Extension work is promoting the environmental and economic health of the Cherokee Ranch past the 100th anniversary it marked in December.

That centennial makes the ranch just a year younger than an institution to which it owes part of its success: the Cooperative Extension Service.

Extension has always been a two-way street. Our county agents, our state specialists such as Jose and Dean Nick Place listen as well as they lecture.

I’m glad I listened to Mack. It resulted in UF/IFAS recruiting a scientist who will contribute to farming for possibly decades to come. It has also helped us identify how we can make a positive impact on Florida by addressing challenges related to production agriculture.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.