Although it was birthed when America was an agrarian society and given the mission of providing information to farmers to enable them to boost crop and livestock production, almost 100 years later the Cooperative Extension Service has evolved into a multi-faceted organization with a broad range of services, says Gary Jackson.
“Extension has been a partner in the astounding increases achieved in agricultural production, and we’re proud of that legacy,” the new director of the Mississippi State University Extension Service said at the annual Delta Ag Expo at Cleveland, Miss.
“But for the past 10 to 20 years, we’ve been dealing with major forces of change. We’ve gone from an economy that was a manufacturing powerhouse to one that’s increasingly centered on technology, information, and services.
“There have been tremendous strides in technology that have changed the face of agriculture. We’ve gone from selling our products at the local and national community level to the community of the world. More and more, we’re thinking of ways to market our products globally. Technology has brought the world to our doorsteps.”
A sixth generation Mississippian, who grew up on a small cattle farm at Water Valley, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at MSU and a Ph.D. at Penn State, Jackson served in a number of administrative positions at MSU before being named Extension head Jan. 1.
He came to the job at a time when Mississippi, like other states, is wrestling with a budget crunch that has necessitated a reexamination of priorities and goals for all public organizations.
“We’ve had to make revisions in order to contain costs and maintain services to our constituency,” Jackson says. “We’ve done a great job of stewardship with the resources available to us, but we’ve become spread awfully thin in terms of specialists. With all this progress has come an increasing demand to solve ever-more complex problems, and Extension still is playing a vital role in meeting these demands. But to more effectively do that, we need to build our roster of specialists and area agents.
“As Extension continues to evolve, there is also an urgent need for more research, more experts to help our producers, businesses, and families with the programs they need in a changing, more technological society.”
Agriculture is still the largest industry in the U.S. and in Mississippi, Jackson notes. “In Mississippi, it’s a $6.8 billion business and 29 percent to 30 percent of paychecks in our state are tied to agriculture.
“Our goal will continue to be to provide the best, unbiased information that will allow our constituency to make informed decisions that best fit their operations. We want to be a catalyst for the agricultural community and for bringing organizations together in a cooperative effort to achieve goals.”
To do that, Jackson says, “We will need the help of leadership in the agricultural community to promote Extension and the continuation of its leadership role in our state.”