No matter its name, Extension serves

October 28, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

As a faculty member of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, I am one of several Extension educators who work in Washington County. If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that we are charged to extend the reach of the University of Maryland to the citizens of the state.

When the Extension Service was started in 1914, we were called Extension agents because we were to be agents of behavioral change. While that is still our primary task through educating people to help themselves, our name has undergone some changes over the years.

We used to be the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, which was changed to Maryland Cooperative Extension. "Service" was dropped from the name because as society changed, many people had a hard time determining what we did - in other words, what services we provided.

Our service, if you will, is informal education. That might be in the form of answering a question by phone or from a visitor, or it might be a class, workshop or pasture walk.


The same was true for the title "agent." Many farm and rural folks knew what county agent, 4-H agent or home economics agent meant. However, as the countryside changed and the population that was returning to the rural areas had no history with Extension, and as Extension was charged to work in urban settings, "educator" was adopted so folks would understand our role in the community.

So how does an Extension educator like me determine the educational needs of their county?

Some areas are easy to determine and very directed: pesticide safety training and nutrient management updates, for example. State law requires continuing education for agriculture producers in these areas.

Other areas are easy to determine, too. As Washington County is the No. 2 dairy county in the state, I should be working with dairy farmers to help them improve their production systems and bottom lines.

After that, I look to other methods of developing programs. For example, I look at my phone traffic. I get an awful lot of phone calls about raising poultry, so last February, I offered a two-evening poultry basics class. Based on the fact that I had to turn people away, I would say I found a need, so I will offer the class again in 2009.

On Thursday, Nov. 20, I will offer a Pasture Basics class from 7 to 9:30 p.m. I will cover pasture grasses, weeds, poisonous plants and some management basics.

What has prompted me again is phone calls. I get many phone calls from folks who have pastures, whether it is one acre for a horse or 50 acres for some beef cows, with these types of questions. So if you feel this type of class would benefit you, feel free to register by calling 301-791-1304.

I hope I have shed a little more light on the what and why of your county Extension program. If you would like to know more about any of our programs or would like to be on our mailing list, call the Extension office at 301-791-1304. You can also keep track of programs offered at

Hope to see you in a class real soon.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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