U of M Extension dean visits Worthington
WORTHINGTON -- University of Minnesota Extension Dean Beverly Durgan was in Worthington Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a statewide tour of counties with visits to the university's 15 Extension regional centers that deliver programming and resou...
WORTHINGTON -- University of Minnesota Extension Dean Beverly Durgan was in Worthington Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a statewide tour of counties with visits to the university’s 15 Extension regional centers that deliver programming and resources to the public.
Now in her 10th year as dean, Durgan said the tour provides her an opportunity to examine her role in Extension and see how programs are making an impact.
The U of M Extension Regional Center in Worthington was Durgan’s 14th stop on the year-long tour. She will make her visit to the 15th regional center Friday.
“It’s been a great year traveling throughout the state and meeting people,” Durgan said. “One thing I’ve learned is that Extension is fortunate. We have some great people working in Extension -- they’re very dedicated to this state -- and the people of Minnesota have pretty high expectations for us.
“They care about what Extension is doing and want us to continue and to expand our work,” she added.
As she visited Worthington Wednesday, Durgan said the farm economy is an issue on many people’s minds. Low prices for corn, soybeans and wheat, coupled with low dairy and hog prices, are causing much concern in the agricultural sector.
“We’re looking at what Extension can do,” Durgan said, noting that David Bau, an Extension educator in ag business management at the Worthington regional office, is planning a series of upcoming meetings on “Surviving and Thriving in the Current Ag Economy.”
Fifteen regional meetings are planned around the state, during which Bau will lead conversations on rent costs, taxes, marketing and planning.
“We’re concerned about what’s happening and hoping we can do some things to help growers,” Durgan said.
Meanwhile, at the U of M’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton, Integrated Pest Management Specialist Bruce Potter continues to research topics at the forefront of agriculture today, from a newly issued crackdown on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to timing applications against soybean aphids.
“We’re also working with cropping people on the buffer strip issue,” Durgan said, noting that Extension crops educator Liz Stahl in the Worthington regional office is doing more work in cover crops and soil health due to increased interest in this part of the state. Meanwhile, Pauline Van Nurden of the Extension regional office in Willmar is building a cohort group of women in agriculture.
“We know we have more women farmers than we have in the past,” Durgan said. “Women do a lot of the books and help with a lot of the decisions. A lot of the time, they don’t get the information they need.”
Throughout this year, Durgan has also taken a look at Extension’s programs for youths, including 4-H. Nearly 6,000 4-H’ers attended the Minnesota State Fair in 2016, and Durgan said the program remains strong.
“We’re putting a renewed interest in this part of the state on some of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs,” she noted, adding that an educator was recently hired to work in STEM education and the Science of Ag Challenge.
One of the things Durgan is looking into is bringing the 4-H and FFA programs together. There is overlap among older 4-H’ers who are in the FFA, and she’d like to see some of those FFA members become mentors to younger 4-H members -- particularly first-generation 4-H families.
“We’re trying a lot of new models with 4-H,” she said. “We know the club model of 4-H … is the best model and it has a lot of history of working well, but for many of our populations, that’s not a model that works well for them.”
Durgan spoke of a Latino 4-H program that was developed in Dodge County to target Latino youths. This year, members of that group went to the state fair, where they teamed up with the fair’s ag ambassadors to learn about all of the facets of the 4-H program. The same was done with a group of home-schooled youths this year.
“I think we just have to try to meet some of our first-generation 4-H’ers in a different way -- maybe not the club model, but an after-school program,” Durgan said, adding that Associate Dean at State 4-H Director Dorothy Freeman is putting greater emphasis on first-generation 4-H’ers in Minnesota.
“It takes mentors to walk them through this maze that we call 4-H,” Durgan added.
Also during her visit, Durgan talked about the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer program that was established by the legislature in 2015. The funding will help support research, education and outreach at U of M locations, including regional offices throughout Minnesota, as well as on-campus advancements.
Durgan said the money will help fund several Extension educator positions, including a new swine educator to be housed -- possibly -- in the southwest region. Plans are to also add a new educator in manure management, a couple of educators in cropping systems and another in horticulture to focus on ways producers can extend the growing season through the use of hoop or deep-winter houses.
“We’re pretty excited to add those positions,” Durgan said. “Many of our educators work on a team and statewide basis.”
Extension will also use some of the funds for internships, as well as improvements to the state’s soil testing lab on the U of M campus. The lab is used for research, but is also available to Minnesota farmers to send in soil samples.
“It’s a statewide resource that needs some renovations,” Durgan noted. “It’s really exciting to see some of this money come in … and serving agriculture.”