Clay County Extension Office Has National Influence
New programs and the benefit of existing programs highlighted the annual Interpretative Event and Appreciation Dinner of Clay County Extension Service Monday in Corning's M.B. Ainley Community Center.
The quartet of agents: Andy Vangilder, Ron Baker, Debbie Baker and Angie Welborn, each presented brief programs, emphasizing their appreciation to county judges, area farmers and volunteer council members who work to make the local program one of the best in the state. Indeed, Clay County Extension serves as a model to other counties in the state and, ideas birthed here are utilized in other states around the country.
"We have some programs that are considered the best in the nation," said Vangilder, who will retire after this year following 33 years of exceptional service. "Our pigweed management has gained nationwide attention and people come to us to learn how to incorporate our programs."
Pigweed abatement procedures developed in Clay County are being implemented in North Carolina and may reach into Canada.
"These are things we can proud of," Vangilder said. "And it's because we have a good relationship with local farmers who utilize the programs and reveal the results."
Baker added that Clay County's Integrated Pest Management program is among the best, and worth millions of dollars locally on its own.
"Knowing when to spray and when not to has saved farmers a lot of money," he said. "Timely treatment has been the key and it can mean thousands of dollars of gain or loss in a big field."
Vangilder also praised the cotton and corn programs.
"Most of the cotton is grown in the eastern portion of the county," he explained. "But we grow a lot of cotton in Clay County. About 10% of the cotton in Arkansas is grown right here."
Vangilder said about 310,000 acres of cotton is harvested annually, most of which is grown in the Piggott area. Weed and insect resistance are important programs in the cotton industry, and Clay County is on the cutting edge of those treatments.
He said Cooperative Extension brings nearly $40,000 into the county through varied programs.
Baker, who oversees rice and soybean program in the county, encouraged continued support and said Clay County is a great place to serve as an Extension agent. Flag technology, a voluntary program developed by Baker in 2010 which places colored flags in fields to prevent misapplication of pesticides and prevent chemical drifts, has been revolutionary in the industry. Chemical drift problems in the central/western district of Clay County have been significantly reduced due to this technology. The program has been adopted around the country and continues to grow to the point that new colors have been adopted.
Flags are used in rice, beans, cotton and corn fields and has virtually saved crops. Baker received an innovative program award from the Arkansas Agricultural County Agents Association for his idea.
Vangilder and Baker also discussed the important 4-H youth programs developed here which included shooting sports, GPS technology, embryology and hunter safety.
"One of the programs we are putting more emphasis on is shooting sports," Baker said. "It's one of the safest programs out there and we are forming clubs with good volunteers."
Welborn also discussed the importance of 4-H youth programs, which are at the center of Cooperative Extension. Currently, there are 4-H clubs in Corning, Piggott and Rector schools and a Homeschool club for students not attending public schools. She said organizers are looking into teen leadership clubs and Constitution clubs where teens learn skills for leadership and understanding the nation's Constitution.
"We've had students go on trips to Washington D.C., adventure camps in New Mexico and hiking along the Buffalo River," she said.
There are numerous other 4-H programs such as egg development, raising chickens, and various competitions in public speaking, singing, forestry and a host of other programs.
Extension Agent Debbie Baker, who oversees Family and Consumer Science, introduced several new programs while calling County Extension one of the best kept secrets in Clay County.
"We don't want it to be a secret," Baker said. "I can tell you that Arkansas Extension programs are superior to other states. You won't find what we have in Missouri or other Extension programs. So we are very proud. There are things offered here that, if it weren't for the Extension Office, they wouldn't exist."
Baker outlined a new program that will introduce yoga-like exercise into classrooms in Clay County's schools. A pilot program launched this year will teach students to focus on breathing, stretching and focus. She said research has revealed that the yoga programs calm students and help them concentrate better, along with providing health benefits.
"We've gotten great feedback," she said. "Our goal is to implement this in all three county schools this year, along with nutritional education."
She said this form of yoga has nothing to do with eastern spiritualism.
"Trust me, if it did, I would have nothing to do with it," she said.
Another innovative program is the Arkansas Farm to You, a traveling exhibit introduced to kindergarten-to-sixth grade students that follows farm products from the field to the market.
Baker said she is also excited about another pilot program that Clay County is among the first to implement. The Extension Wellness Ambassador program provides training to volunteers who want to teach simple strategies to improve health. Volunteers receive 40 hours of training and provide 40 hours of service training in the community. Sessions will begin in October.
For more information about Cooperative Extension or to become involved in the program, contact the office in Corning at 870-857-6875 or Piggott at 870-598-2246.