My First Extension Lesson
In 1954 my first assignment in the Extension Service was community development in Edgefield County. It was a specially funded project designed to assist farmers, homemakers and youth in designated communities.
I started my work in the Limestone Community. There were a number of small farmers who did not practice up-to-date agricultural methods. Many were part-timers who worked elsewhere and farmed part-time. The homemakers did not have an organization from which to learn new practices. The youth had no 4-H Club in which they could attend and participate in projects.
After a few weeks of visiting in the community, I selected several key leaders to advise and work with me. There was an abandoned school house in the neighborhood we decided to remodel and convert into a community center. The locals brought carpenter tools and paint. Soon we had a community center where we held monthly educational meetings after enjoying pot-luck meals. Attendance was great and enthusiasm was high. The rural youth enjoyed the educational programs and working with their individual projects.
Crop yields were extremely low as the farmers were reluctant to adopt new farming practices. Corn yields, for example, were in the 20-30 bushel per acre range.
I selected one part-time farmer who struggled to produce a profitable corn yield. Year after year he planted seed corn from the previous year's corn crop, used a minimum amount of fertilizer, and felt successful if he produced 25 bushels per acre.
After convincing the farmer that higher yields were possible, we discussed having a 2-acre demonstration plot in the middle of his corn field. He agreed, after I promised to work with him on a week-to-week basis and buy for him "that high-priced hybrid seed corn."
I was on his farm the day he began planting. When we got to the area of the test plot, I suggested we double the amount of fertilizer. He reluctantly agreed. Then we cleaned the planters and poured in the seed corn I bought for the 2-acre plot. Afterwards the entire field, including the test plot was cultivated using his nearly-obsolete equipment. When it came time to side-dress the corn field, we doubled the amount of Nitrogen.
The farmer soon observed that the corn stalks in the test plot were greener and taller than those in the rest of the field. There were more ears on the stalks and the test plot ears were larger.He told his neighbors and they came to see for themselves. All were amazed.
When the corn matured, he harvested an average of 23 bushels per acre from the field surrounding the demonstration plot. The demonstration area produced 70 bushels per acre - a yield that amazed both him and his part-time farmer neighbors. They talked about it during the monthly community meetings.From that 2-acre demonstration plot which all his neighbors observed, I learned that people will accept Extension's recommendations more readily if they see for themselves the benefits that are possible. That was my first Extension lesson.