“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so the proverb goes.
Faced with tight budgets, the Louisiana State University AgCenter needed to take a hard look at Extension agents in its parishes and invent a more sustainable way to provide services to its clientele.
“Our hope is to get to a level from a budget standpoint where we’re much more sustainable,” says Kurt Guidry, AgCenter Southwestern Region director based in Crowley. “We don’t necessarily have to have an agent in every single parish. This is a new model for us.
“It’s going to also help moving forward in terms of recruiting new agents. I think it’s going to help us attract more potential people going forward and potentially retaining them a little longer.”
He discussed the transition to a new Extension agent system with Rice Farming editor Vicky Boyd after the LSU AgCenter Rice Field Day.
In early January, the AgCenter began transitioning to multi-parish agents who have expertise in specific areas, Guidry says. No longer will the agent in each parish be responsible for the gamut of subjects, ranging from 4-H and livestock to row crops and home gardening.
“Instead of having one agent per parish, we’re going to four people in that parish, but each person may be an agent for three parishes,” he says.
Guidry used Jeremy Hebert, who has an agronomy background, as an example. Under the new plan, Hebert, who currently serves as parish agent in Acadia Parish, will become the agronomy agent for rice and soybeans based in Jeff Davis Parish. He will serve rice and soybean producers in multiple parishes.
A multi-parish animal science agent also will be based in the Jeff Davis Parish Extension office.
Each of the five regional directors last year had to submit a proposal to AgCenter leaders about how they would achieve the goals.
For Guidry, that meant how to reorganize 14 parishes within the Southwest Region that runs along Interstate 10 from Baton Rouge west to the Texas border.
As with any major changes, he says, this multi-parish program will mean both agents and clients will have to make adjustments.
“There are going to be some growing pains,” Guidry says.
But he says he doesn’t expect the challenges to be insurmountable.