No I’m not being cranky. It’s a thrill for me when someone trusts me enough to ask me a question. This is just a plea to remember your county or regional Cooperative Extension office when you have a farm or garden question. It seems like you can find information on almost anything on the Internet, but nothing beats local knowledge and experience for some problems. If you want to improve your soil or you are having a problem with a plant disease or pest, your local Cooperative Extension office will probably have more information than someone hundreds or thousands of miles away. Whatever problem you are having, they have probably heard of someone else with a similar problem.
Congress established the Cooperative Extension System almost one hundred years ago with the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 (PDF file). This act established a partnership between the land-grant universities and the Department of Agriculture to develop practical applications of research and to give the public some instruction and demonstrations of new technologies and applications. At the time, more than half of the population lived in rural areas and about a third worked in agriculture. The Cooperative Extension System is a way to translate some of the research in land-grant universities and USDA into something the general public can use right away. The increase in farm productivity over the years is due in part to the activities of the Extension System.
Today only a small percentage of Americans are farmers, and the Extension System has changed over the years with population changes. Every time I visit an extension office or my county extension web site, I’m amazed at the number and types of publications offered. Many can be downloaded. You can purchase others at reasonable prices. On a recent visit to my county’s extension web site, I found publications on food preservation, a variety of gardening and horticultural topics, money management, information on soil analysis, soil maps and descriptions, information on pests and diseases important to the area, radon testing, wildlife, as well as the expected topics on agriculture and livestock. There’s much much more available.
The USDA web site has a locator map for Cooperative Extension System offices. Many countries have systems similar to ours. If you are from somewhere other than the United States, check out your country’s equivalent and see what they offer.