Our Turn: Here’s a way to reach aspiring farmers

Cooperative Extension misses the mark in talking to younger people

A PeeDeePost.com editorial

In this week’s Extension at Your Service column published in the Richmond County Daily Journal, Susan Kelly talks about the next generation of farmers. It’s a great topic. The average age of the Richmond County farmer, Kelly said, is 58 years old. There is a need for younger people to get interested and involved in the industry.

Kelly is director of the Richmond County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. The mission of her taxpayer-funded office through the public N.C. State University is to provide outreach to:

* sustain agriculture and forestry;
* protect the environment;
* maintain viable communities;
* develop responsible youth;
* develop strong, healthy and safe families.

Farmer age is a subject that Kelly has mentioned more than once, most recently during Farm-City Week in November, where Kelly and other stakeholders in the farm-ag industry hosted dignitaries and movers and shakers in the local agricultural community for lunch. The average age of those in attendance was decidedly on the upper end of the age scale as well.

The average age of the PeeDeePost.com reader covers a wide spectrum compared to traditional print newspapers, which generally have overwhelmingly older readers.

The average age of the PeeDeePost.com reader covers a wide spectrum compared to traditional print newspapers, which generally have overwhelmingly older readers.

There’s just one problem with the message Kelly and her staff are sending — it’s not going to the right place. Kelly has chosen her platform to be the traditional print newspaper. This is a forum — a traditional print newspaper with supplemental online coverage — in which more than 72 percent of readers are 55 or older (not to mention the dwindling number of paid subscriber to the print edition for newspapers across the country).

The Pee Dee Post is the only area media outlet with a dedicated Farm & Ag section. The Post has asked, on multiple occasions, for Kelly and her staff to submit the weekly Extension at Your Service column to the Post at the same time it’s submitted to any other interested media outlet. Kelly, however, has refused. Kelly indicated the Post could receive the column but 48 hours after it’s sent to another newspaper. Kelly refused in such a steadfast manner that we asked her supervisor, Clinton McRae.

McRae is the south central extension director. McRae seemed to agree with the Post‘s argument that it seems a bit odd for the head of a taxpayer-funded agency to turn down what amounts to free publicity and another opportunity to educate and reach farmers, and create awareness for what the office does.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, through a series of emails and telephone calls, McRae said that, ultimately, it was up to Kelly to decide where her staff-writer columns would be published. So we took it another step and asked Sheri Schwab, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s director of county operations.

Schwab is, among other things, an attorney. We were hopeful she’d agree with what Kelly told us in the first place — that the columns public information and should be distributed in a timely manner to anyone who asks. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Schwab insisted that the columns were “intellectual property” and that it was, indeed, Kelly’s prerogative as to who received the columns and when. Schwab didn’t response to the statement that the decision “didn’t appear to pass the common-sense test.”

Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly

Schwab noted that Kelly had offered to submit to the Post a “shorter, separate” column. The Post reiterated its stance that it wanted absolutely no part in having Extension Office staff complete yet more work. Too many people, the Post argued, already are doing more work with less resources and compensation. The Post did not want to be a part of increasing the burden to the extension agents who are likely to be here, and continue to work with the Post, long after Kelly’s tenure as director ends.

But Schwab persisted.

“That’s in the discretion of people making the choice,” Schwab said of sharing the columns. “It’s not a requirement for us to share all of the information.”

So, Post readers, this is what your tax dollars are going towards — and effort to conceal their work, and reject an opportunity for free publicity at a time when Kelly herself admits its critical to reach out to new, younger people.

In this week’s column, Kelly said it best herself: “Any good business starts out with a good plan.”

We remain hopeful Kelly has a change of heart and chooses to improve her business plan. The Post is for Richmond County, and can be for the local Extension office, a place were Farm and Ag issues can be discussed by bright, engaged men and women who coverage the age spectrum.

Recent Farm and Ag-related stories on PeeDeePost.com include:

* Nov. 26: Vets raising bees on old surface mines
* Nov. 26: Buying time: Helping families prepare healthier meals
* Nov. 24: Plea: ‘Be farm your own advocate’
* Nov. 22: Reaching out to the next generation
* Nov. 20: Cost share funds still available to farmers
* Nov. 19: Maebelle serves as mascot for Farm-City Week
* Nov. 19: Tobacco: Kids can’t smoke it, but they can pick it
* Oct. 31: LJ Bell students step up to meet water challenge

Perhaps you, the reader, can help convince her. If you are interested in having the Extension at Your Service columns published on PeeDeePost.com — one of multiple vehicles the Extension Office has at its service, at no cost — please consider contacting Kelly. Her email address is sakelly2@ncsu.edu and her phone number is 910-997-8255.

Each PeeDeePost.com editorial is an opinion piece that aims to serve the greater good. It’s message does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any individual who works with The Pee Dee Post.

Filed in: Farm & Ag, Opinion

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  • Jason Sanders

    Why do you want to copy the daily urinal? I thought you wanted to provide something new and fresh. It seems like you post a lot of the same things. Why not distinguish yourself by doing something different?

    • Amanda

      The Post wouldn’t be “copying” the Daily Journal, they would be publishing information their readers want to know. In order to be a great paper, The Post needs to cover all local news in their own voice, which they do, and include unique articles when available, which they do. In fact, for being such a new paper and having a much smaller staff than The Daily Journal, The Post is doing an incredible job of being everywhere and covering everything.

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