Whether they rode up to a farm on a horse-drawn buggy or offered advice on the bed of a pick-up truck, county extension agents have been providing unbiased, research-based information to Kentucky farmers for over a century.
“Even though we are a hundred years old, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is seeking to find and serve people where they are and in ways they want to receive information,” said Jimmy Henning, director of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in the UK College of Agriculture. “Today, that includes the farm visit and the smartphone. In addition, programs have expanded to encompass youth, families, community development and even fine arts.”
Charles Mahan was hired as the first full-time county agent in agriculture in the fall of 1912 in Henderson County, even though Congress’ Smith-Lever Act didn’t establish the Cooperative Extension Service until 1914. During his first year, he did his work by horse and buggy. After that, local leaders bought him a red motorcycle so he could visit farmers.
Family and consumer sciences extension agents, and 4-H youth development agents quickly followed, and the first fine arts extension agent was added in 2005.
In Cooperative Extension's early years, to get the latest information from the university, agents attended UK field days and shared this information with farmers during farm visits, farm demonstrations, articles written for the local newspaper and by word of mouth. Today, communication is much improved, but UK specialists still have on-farm research trials, and the majority of agents still have weekly columns in the newspapers, and they make farm visits. They also use the latest communication tools including the Internet, social media and YouTube to provide farmers with the most current information.
The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is the most comprehensive outreach and engagement program at the University of Kentucky with a mission to make a difference in the lives of Kentucky citizens through research-based education.