Along with Cooperative Extension agencies across the state, Sampson County’s is undergoing some changes, including staff taking on new, additional responsibilities, all as a result of the state tightening the purse strings in its recent budget. However, despite funding challenges, the local staff say they remain dedicated to providing the services and programs that the community has enjoyed for many years.
“It’s been a year of change,” said Eileen Coite, the county’s Extension Director who came to the position in May from Wayne County. “Our organization overall is going to see some structural changes, some reorganization statewide. It’s something that has been talked about a lot for years. Extensions in many other states have gone through similar changes, but it’s definitely something new for North Carolina.”
Although unsure of the details, Coite noted that the changes are stemming primarily from state budgetary constraints.
“It’s in a different situation this time,” she said of the budget, explaining that the Extension’s funding comes from a three-tiered partnership mostly involving state and county monies but also a small percentage of federal dollars.
“We’ve faced budgeting challenges for many years,” she pointed out, “and there is a certain amount of uncertainty that comes with the unknown.”
However, with a county like Sampson to serve, she’s not worried. “With Sampson County, it’s just the powerhouse of agriculture so our presence will remain strong in the county.”
As they wait for the larger, long-term changes to come down from the organization, the local staff is already making short-term plans.
“We’re splitting up and sharing responsibilities,” explained Coite. “We want to be prepared to meet the needs of the county.”
Coite herself will now serve as the agency’s liaison with the Master Gardeners and the Friends of Horticulture.
Livestock agent Paul Gonzalez and 4-H Youth Development agent Amanda Bradshaw will now assist community members with any home horticulture issues like those involving home gardens, plants, shrubs, and flowers. Bradshaw will also lead youth horticulture programs while Gonzalez will also be available to answer any questions about wildlife.
Livestock (swine) agent Max Knowles will assist community members in the areas of aquatics and pond management. Along with area specialized agent (farm management) James Hartsfield, Knowles will answer questions concerning forestry in Sampson.
Finally, Della King, former horticulture agent, will now oversee the county’s field crops, bee-keeping, and pesticide education.
“We approaching 100 years of the Extension, so if there’s a good time to go through these changes, this is it,” said Coite. “We’re looking forward to the next 100 years as we reevaluate what our specialized areas are, what the focus of our guidance will be, and as we continue to serve the citizens.”
Into the fields
Having been with Sampson’s Cooperative Extension for close to 10 years now, King knows the agency and the county inside and out, two things that will make her transition into the fields a little easier for both her and the community.
Noting that over the years the field crop agent position has experienced a lot of turnover, King shared that she is looking forward to “providing a lot more stability.”
As the county’s new field crop agent, King will assist local farmers, troubleshoot both field and greenhouse issues, plan education programs and meetings for crops including tobacco and cotton, and conduct research through plot work trials, taking into consideration soil types, climate, weather, and management as she looks at different crop varieties for yield content.
The job, noted King, isn’t much different from the work she did as the county’s horticulture agent.
“Many of the pest diseases are the same, just different names,” she explained, noting that all her responsibilities will not change as she will continue to oversee bee-keeping and pesticide education. “It’s not that big of a change. There will be a little bit of a learning curve. I will be out more and there will be a lot more ground to cover but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
While new duties can come with growing pains, King has years of experience under her belt to fall back on. She grew up on a farm in Duplin County where her family raised tobacco, soybeans, small grains, corn, cucumbers, and cattle.
In school, King was heavily involved in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization where she assumed many leadership roles. She also competed in numerous livestock shows. After high school, King continued her education at North Carolina State University where she earned a Master’s degree in Agriculture Education.
“I know my way around a farm. Being on the farms has always been comfortable,” she said.
“And she already knows the people and the county well,” Coite interjected.
“I’m looking forward to the new challenges, meeting new people that I don’t already know, and working closer with those I do,” King continued. “I really just want to fill the void and provide that stability for our growers.”
As King and the other agents take on their new, additional responsibilities, Coite asks that the community “be patient through the transition” and “please be specific (with inquiries) so that we know who is the right person to help you.”
“We’re committed to providing the knowledge and services that we have and that the community needs,” assured Coite. “It just may not be in the exact same way.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.