Like your Extension agent, I can’t do an important part of my job from the office, unless you consider a Ford Explorer an office. To visit face-to-face with Extension agents, researchers, farmers, and ranchers, I drive 30,000 miles a year.
I fulfilled my 67-county pledge on April 8 in Lake City by breaking a ceremonial runner’s finish line tape at the Columbia County Extension office. It wasn’t mission accomplished. It was mission acknowledged.
Food is our middle name, and it’s our job at UF/IFAS to help food producers stay profitable so they continue to feed the world and protect the planet. Extension is a crucial piece of how we do that.
Throughout my visits, I got a good look at the work our Extension agents do in your community. While the particular programming and services differ according to community needs, my statewide tour revealed a few things Hillsborough and Polk Extension have in common with the other 65 offices:
Our relationships are strong. I heard stories of agent-farmer friendships that go back decades and met many of them. In most counties, there is a deep and abiding trust between UF/IFAS Extension faculty and the farmers they serve.
You want to do good while doing well. I heard repeatedly that you are committed to being good stewards of the environment, that you want to protect the land you rely on for a livelihood. You also donate food to the needy, raise money for scholarships, and volunteer on civic boards and in schools.
You rely on science. Farmers repeatedly told me they would not be in business were it not for the innovation to which agents gave them access and sometimes helped absorb the risk of trying something new.
Our future is bright. In numerous counties, I met 4-Hers. All of them were articulate, motivated, service-oriented, courteous, and engaged. I could see the future leader in each of them and the emerging intellect that will make them our next generation of problem-solvers.
My travels aren’t limited to Extension offices, of course. UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County Director Stephen Gran invited me to accept an award for UF/IFAS as the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s agribusiness of the year.
That trip was also rewarding for the opportunity to visit with then-Hillsborough County Farm Bureau executive director Judi Whitson, as well as Jason Conrad, chairman of the Florida Beef Council and a board member of the Hillsborough County Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and Florida 4-H Hall of Famer Betty Jo Tompkins.
In addition to Extension visits, traveling to Hillsborough and Polk counties means checking in at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma, the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences program in Plant City, and the Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Ruskin.
I’m not done learning from you and the stakeholders you serve. I’ll continue to visit Hillsborough and Polk counties to remind myself who we work for—every citizen of Florida! Most of them don’t live here on campus.
I’m planning to come your way to attend the Florida Ag Expo at Gulf Coast REC on November 2. And if you invite me, I may even be able to visit your farm sometime. Like our Extension agents, I’ll do my best to come to you.
See you soon.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).