Coming soon: Agricultural extension agent

Published 10:33 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

After two years without an agricultural extension agent in Suffolk, local farmers can look forward to the void being filled by fall.

Lonnie Johnson, district director for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, said the job listing should be posted by July 1, barring any delays.

“We hope to have somebody on board by September,” Johnson said.

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The position, which serves to offer expert advice and support to local farmers, has been vacant for two years since the former agricultural agent, Rex Cotten, took a retirement incentive intended to help cover a budget shortfall.

More than 30 other agents also took the incentive, leaving a gaping hole in the program throughout the state, Johnson said.

In the meantime, agents from Chesapeake, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County provided support, did damage assessments after droughts and more.

“We’ve been trying to bridge the gap,” Johnson said. “There’s definitely a need there.”

Johnson said he had been contacted by several local farmers about when the position would be filled.

Joe Barlow Sr., a farmer and former City Council member, acknowledged being one of those inquiring about it.

“We have been asking for it ever since Rex Cotten retired,” he said. “We need an extension agent.”

Barlow said having an agricultural extension agent in the community is vital for farmers.

“One that’s experienced can answer a lot of questions that come from research,” he said. “Agriculture has changed a little bit from years ago. There are fewer farmers, but we still have the same problems that we once had, and there are always new ones.”

Barlow said the agricultural extension agent stays on top of research affecting local farmers and distributes it, coordinates meetings of agricultural producers when needed, and more.

Barlow added that local farmers are fortunate to have the Tidewater Agricultural Research Extension Center located in Suffolk, on Holland Road. The experts there have stood in good stead for the empty position, but it still will be nice to have an agent, Barlow said.

“I’m very pleased,” he added.

Johnson, who will be responsible for hiring the new agent, said he anticipated hearing soon about when the position can be advertised.

“We should be seeing an announcement within the next week or so,” he said Thursday.