Cooperative Extension in Nevada has grown from a program to assist farmers and ranchers to one that now encompasses most segments of society as residents more about the world in which they live.
Despite recent budget cuts and a reconfiguration of its outreach, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has been an important friend and adviser to those in Churchill County rely on its expertise in planting alternative plants and seeds, horticulture, master gardening, 4-H and wildfire prevention.
On Thursday, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension celebrates its centennial, and local employees envision another unique and exciting 100 years.
Jay Davison, area forage and alternative crop specialist, has been driving the Silver state’s highways and backroads for almost 30 years by lending his expertise to help landowners find different crops that thrive better during drought years.
“This year more people are interested in water efficient agriculture because of the drought,” Davison said.
With precipitation down because of a drier than normal winter, Davison said farmers are looking to grow low water forage such as Sudan grass, which he says is as nutritious as corn. Davison has also developed into a guru — so to speak — for promoting teff, a small grain crop that uses less water than alfalfa, as well as such traditional crops as alfalfa and grass hay. This year, though, Davison said he doesn’t know how much teff will be grown because its productivity may depend on the water cut-off.
Both Davison and Pam Powell, extension educator, said cooperative extension trains residents with a variety of programs. For example, Powell said Pat Whitten, who works in the Fallon office, is a master gardener. Powell said other programs that are provided in Churchill County include radon education, the annual Cattlemen’s Update that criss-crosses Nevada in early January and drought workshops.
“We have a series of drought workshops to show the proper ways to irrigate with low water,” she added.
Davison also said throughout the summer, he receives calls on weed growth and how to eradicate specific kinds.
One of the biggest programs in the county, however, is 4-H.
“The 4-H clover is one of the most recognizable symbols in the country,” Davison said.
Powell agrees and says the local program keeps growing.
“Our program has new clubs, additional leaders and new members,” she said, adding the 4-H program receives more support from the county because of university budget cuts.
One of the most popular programs is alerting the public about radon gas levels.
“We spend a lot of attention with it, and last year we worked with students in the high schools and made a presentation to the community and other teachers,” Powell said. “Our radon program won an award.”
Davison said a trend that has been gaining interest in the state has been urban farming, especially in the Reno and Las Vegas metropolitan areas.
A new emphasis has also faced cooperative extension. Instead of working within the state, the agency now crosses state lines to work with other cooperative extensions in Idaho and Utah. For example, Davison said he sees more synergy among the states and also between government and the private sector.
“Extension in the West is getting smaller,” he explained. “More and more people are willing to work across state lines.”
And, of course, the university still plays a major role.
“From the economic and environmental standpoint, we like to see diversity, we like to see options,” he said, adding the combined role of all cooperative extensions is making this occur. “If a need is identifiable, we then take it to the university.”
Powell said she must also determine the effectiveness of current programs.
“Cooperative extension picks up the slack with Pam, who also evaluates programs to determine if there is anything lacking and anything to address,” Davison said.
Because of Powell’s work, Davison said cooperative extension has been able to offer workshops on the forage needs with cows by bringing in resources such as economists and agronomists to answer questions.
“The best kept secret about us is we have a good network of people,” Powell said. “We also have other areas where needs come up.”
Powell pointed out that the needs of a community — such as Las Vegas — may not have the same ones of Churchill County, so programs must be tailored.
Cooperative extension in Churchill County also has an experiment station farm where certain plant groups are growing, and specialists like Davison examine their growth and see what they do on a small scale. As with any research, Davison said he prefers to have two-to-three years of data, citing that climatic conditions change during that time span.
Davison said the experiment station still records daily temperatures, precipitation and wind speed. He also said the Natural Conservation Resource Service, which co-exists in the same building with cooperative extension, tests plants at the station.
Powell said she is proud of cooperative extension’s role in Churchill County.
“We want to help people and give them a better quality of life,” Powell said, who has been involved with cooperative extension and 4-H programs for more than 14 years. “We are also members of the community.
Davison said cooperative extension relies on more volunteers to help answer phones, send out mailings, assist with 4-H livestock shows and lend their expertise.
“We are developing relationships with colleagues and people in the community,” she said.
Powell said many government agencies coexist in the Ag Service Center building on 111 Sheckler Road, and she finds the cooperation very supportive among the offices.
“We build relationships and build services for the people in the community,” she said. “We get a lot of wonderful support from the community, and we appreciate it.”