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The Extension Service — Summer 2008 | Out Here Magazine

Randy Chlapecka, right, and other extension agents enjoy spending much of their time out in the field educating farmers, such as John "Bubba" Sink.

Extending knowledge where you live and work

By Leah Call
Photography by Benjamin Krain

You've recently bought your little piece of land out in the country, and you're ready to embrace the rural lifestyle — but you have a lot to learn.

Where's the best place to plant a fruit tree? How can the lawn be revived? What's the best way to preserve green beans from the garden?

Answers are as close as the Cooperative Extension Service.

"The heart and soul of the county extension agent is just answering those calls from the public," says Randy Chlapecka, county agent with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Newport, AR.

Since 1914, federal, state, and county governments have funded the Cooperative Extension Service system, which links the nation's land-grant colleges and universities to the public — extending research-based information to farms, businesses, families, and young people.

Today, there's an extension office in nearly every county in the United States.

Extension agents are on hand to provide education in one or more of four primary program areas: agriculture, family and consumer science, community development, and 4-H youth development.

Chlapecka, who has been an extension agent for 25 years, specializes in agriculture and spends much of his time educating area farmers on the newest information and recommendations.

"I do trials in the field with new crop varieties and hybrids. Also new fertilizer recommendations, insecticides — any type of product farmers might want to see used in the field," Chlapecka explains.

"We also regularly do a lot of educational meetings in the winter, when the farmers aren't in the field as much."

Fact sheets, production books, other publications, and workshops are available at every county extension office. Most are free. Though each office has a similar framework, the services and information are tailored to meet local needs from county to county.

"We concentrate heavily on row crops like rice and soybeans, corn, sorghum, and wheat," Chlapecka says. "Some counties might have very little row crop production and may be strictly livestock or ornamental horticulture. We try to fit the needs of the people. That's why we are so flexible in the things that we do and what we offer."

Extension agents do a lot more than give advice over the phone. They deliver education where people live and work.

"Most county agents love that direct contact with the public, going to their farm or to a homeowner's yard or garden," Chlapecka says. "That one-to-one contact is a very important part of what we do."

You can even become a Master Gardener with the Master Gardener Program, which trains volunteers to provide horticulture education to the public.

 "It's more than just agriculture," Chlapecka says. "We are kind of a clearing house for anything. If you need information, call your extension office."

Leah Call is a freelance writer in Westby, WI.