By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When Paul Flint needed answers to questions he and fellow farmers had during last year’s drought, he remembered help he received during another weather event more than 30 years ago.
At that time, the problem was too much rain.
And, as he did during a major flood in 1979, Flint sought advice from the staff in his local Purdue University extension office. Once again they were able to help, this time providing answers on topics such as alternative feeds and proper chemical usage, he said.
“We had enough hay last year, so we were in pretty good shape,” he noted. “But a lot of my neighbors were asking could they feed this or that. We told them what we knew based on our experiences. I didn’t want to guide people down the wrong path.”
Because of his previous experience, contacting Purdue extension seemed the logical option, said Flint, who raises beef cattle and farms about 2,000 acres in Daviess County. Eventually, he hosted a meeting with area farmers and extension officials.
“They’ve (Purdue) done tests on all these kinds of crops, so they know what to use and what not to use,” he said. “They knew what we could use to feed the cows and what we couldn’t use.”
Flint’s story is one of several posted on Purdue’s Making A Difference website at
www.ag.purdue.edu/extension/makingadifference – a place where Purdue officials hope both those familiar and unfamiliar with extension will go to learn more about what the program has to offer.
“We all have the challenge to help people better understand what we do, and the variety and depth of programming and expertise that we have,” said Beth Forbes, head of Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Communications. “It’s been said Purdue University extension is one of the best kept secrets in Indiana.
“We don’t want it to be one of the best kept secrets in Indiana. This is a way to help people better understand the kinds of opportunities in extension.”
The university may need to focus more on explaining the information and expertise presented by extension is based on research done by Purdue or other universities, she noted.
“There are steps we can take to make people more aware, such as stressing it’s a Purdue extension program,” she said. “Sometimes we’re not always tooting our horn as loud as we can. Maybe we haven’t made ourselves as visible as we could.”
The “Making A Difference” website lists eight initiatives extension officials hope will help create science-based, practical solutions to problems people may face. The goals of the initiatives are, in part, to engage youth to help solve problems, focus educational resources on needed programs and to enhance the quality of that programming.
The eight initiatives include providing a more complete understanding of food systems, help in planning and preparation for a sustainable future and building the state’s capacity to conserve its environment and natural resources. The website allows each office to highlight programs and other offerings specific to that county, Forbes said.
“The site is not inclusive of everything we do,” she noted. “It’s very much about what the local needs are. The website also isn’t the only way we try to reach potential clients. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It does tell people how extension makes a difference in people’s lives.”
The site has been a good way to make the program better-known in the state, said James R. Mintert, interim director of extension.
“It’s not the only way we tell our story, it’s just a component,” he said. “One of the challenges is to make people aware of the programs we offer. This has helped us to tell the story of extension and the successes we’ve had in Indiana.”
Purdue isn’t alone, Mintert noted. All land grant university administrators in the Midwest are looking for ways to communicate to clientele groups the variety of programs they offer and the impact those programs have, he said.
Flint said he allowed Purdue extension to use his story on the website in order to encourage more farmers to contact extension for help. “(Farmers) are aware of it, but most don’t think to contact them,” he explained. “If the extension agent has changed, they may not know the new person. A lot of people can’t go beyond the coffee shop.
“But you can go into (the coffee shop) the next day, and they don’t know any more than they did yesterday. Extension has people who have done the testing. They know what works and what doesn’t work.”