Career Story: Extension Specialist On Sustainable Farming Methods

Extension Specialist On Sustainable Farming Methods

Job Title: Extension Specialist

Type of Company: University cooperative extension works with farmers to improve the profitability and environmental sustainability of their farming operations using research-based information.

Education: BA in Biology, Swarthmore College •• MS in Agronomy, Univ of Wisconsin •• PhD in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine

Previous Experience: I worked as a research technician doing agricultural field research and as an extension associate writing case studies of successful farmers to help other farmers succeed. I also worked for the Peace Corps in Africa.

Job Tasks: My job is to help farmers improve the sustainability of their farming operations. This means helping them farm in a way that is profitable for them AND doesn't degrade the environment. I am currently working with farmers to test different ways to grow wheat organically and produce a crop that can be used for bread flour. Farmers get twice as much money for wheat that meet bread flour quality standards as for wheat sold as animal feed.

I'm also working with other farmers to evaluate different methods of preventing the export of nitrogen from the their fields to local waters.

In addition to conducting research trials on farms and research stations, I do a lot of teaching. I design educational programs for farmers and people who work with farmers. This includes organizing workshops with speakers and tours of different farms. I give lots of talks at such workshops and tours, as well as conferences. Lastly, I answer questions from farmers and others on the phone.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: One of the best parts is working with people. These include farmers, non-profit groups, university students, and other researchers and educators. I also like being able to work outside. And I like that agriculture encompasses many different disciplines - biology, ecology, economics, politics, social science, etc.

The worst part is feeling like I can never do enough. There are so many good projects and people to help. It's hard to keep my work focused and manageable.

Job Tips:
1. Work on a real farm at some point in your training so you can get a good idea of the constraints and opportunities under which farmers actually operate.

2. Try to get a college job with an agricultural researcher or extension agent.

3. Choose your graduate school advisor carefully. It should be someone you are very comfortable with, with similar interests and working style.

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