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Extension agents adjust to change

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A major change in the way extension agents do their jobs has been implemented with good results, according to Julie Dutton, Morgan County Extension coordinator.
Now, most of the agents who operate out of the Morgan County Extension Service Center, located on Highway 36 west of Hartselle, are assigned to regional territories and offer their services to residents of up to eight counties.
For example: Ronald Britnell, forestry and wildlife agent, serves an eight-county region which includes Morgan, Lawrence, Lauderdale, Franklin and Lamar counties. Although his office remains in Hartselle, he may be on the job in any one of the eight counties in his region at any given time during the work week. At the same time, he may receive calls for assistance and respond to farm owners in the other counties.
"What it boils down to is doing more with less," Dutton said. "And it's working because of the technology we're using. All of the extension agents in the state have laptop computers at their disposal and, since all of the computers are networked, they are able to communicate instantly by email. This is an especially effective means of communication for people who have email capability."
All of the agents also have cell phones and can be reached no matter where they are.
"Most of Extension people like the system," said Mike Reeves, who is now serving as an urban horticulturist for both Morgan and Lawrence Counties. "I get a lot of queries in the spring and summer about lawn and ornamental plant problems. Most of these can be handled by email or over the telephone. If I need a photograph to identify the problem one can either be emailed or dropped off at the office."
"Under the old system we had six county agents on staff with specialties in 4-H and youth, money management and nutrition, forestry and wildlife and urban horticulture," Dutton said. "Now, Morgan countians have access to 13 additional agents with specialties in 4-H and youth, agronomic crops, animal sciences and forages, commercial horticulture, home grounds and pests, consumer science and personal finance, family and child development, health, diet and nutrition, food safety and dairy science.
"This maximizes the amount of experience and expertise that is available to the farm and homeowner on any given subject," she added.
Dutton said county residents who desire information or counsel from the Extension Service should continue to contact the Extension office either in person or by telephone.
"Our operator can put them in touch with the agent who is best qualified to assist them," she added.