Pike County supervisors called Extension Service officials on the carpet Friday — sort of — and asked for an update, an explanation and more communication.
Board president Chuck Lambert asked the lone Pike Extension Service employee, Don Smith, and his superior from Raymond, Dr. Sherry Surrette, what’s been going on with the agency since the retirement of county agriculture agent Lamar Adams in March.
Lambert said he’s had a number of phone calls from people involved in agriculture about the lack of a county agriculture agent since Adams’ departure, as well as the decline in 4-H livestock program participants.
Smith’s official title is Pike County Extension Agent/County Coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Adams’ title was Extension Agriculture Agent.
“We hadn’t heard anything from y’all about replacing Lamar,” Lambert said. “What does this board need to do to get an agent here with an agriculture degree?”
Lambert also said only two families participated in 4-H livestock at the Pike County Fair in September. He said he’s heard participating families are going to programs in adjacent counties instead.
Lambert didn’t blame Smith. He said local Extension officials used to keep supervisors updated with an annual breakfast and information session, but that hasn’t happened in years.
Lambert also questioned whether it’s sensible to keep using the Extension building in Magnolia since it only has two occupants, Smith and Alcorn State University Extension Service Agricultural Educator Margeria Smith.
Smith said 4-H participants who transferred to other counties were not Pike County residents. He acknowledged the 4-H livestock program has dwindled from 26 families to two, even though he’s hosted several promotions for the program.
Other 4-H programs are doing well, but it’s hard to get people interested in livestock, he said.
“Livestock is not one of our top programs,” he said, noting the decline is statewide.
“It’s not the 4-H program as a whole. It’s more the livestock part of it,” he said.
Supervisor Gary Honea said he could understand, as there are few dairy farms left in the area.
“I showed dairy cattle when I was growing up. The whole thing’s changed,” Honea said.
As for a new agriculture agent, Surrette, who is head of the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Service, said she checked with the state Extension director and was told supervisors would have to pay half the salary.
Currently supervisors contribute $10,000 a year; that would have to go up another $12,000.
Surrette noted that the Extension Service is advertising for a community wellness planning agent for the county.