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Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service director focuses on education

BROOKSVILLE — One needs stamina to keep up with Stacy Strickland.

On his first official day as director of the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service, Strickland's agenda included:

• A visit to a farm in Sumter County, where a new producer had inherited a herd of beef cattle and had little knowledge of how to handle the bovines.

•A meeting with Jean Rags, Hernando County's director of Health and Human Services, who also fills a role as leadership director to county department heads. Strickland figured he'd have to dash from the farm in jeans and cowboy boots for the sit-down.

• Also on tap was a training session Strickland was to lead for volunteer counselors at an upcoming 4-H camp.

The farm visit was rained out, weather being the bane of all agricultural endeavors. It gave Strickland time to think about goals and plans he'd like to implement as the new director of Hernando's extension service, an outreach of the University of Florida's agricultural and consumer services program.

Strickland, 31, who took the reins on July 1, has a native Georgia charm. He is well-known in local agricultural circles, having served since 2004 as the small farm specialist agent with the extension office, serving Hernando, Pasco, Citrus and Sumter counties.

Although he graduated from Valdosta (Ga.) State University with a bachelor's degree in biology, including a lot of chemistry research, then earned a doctorate at the University of Florida in plant pathology, he has drawn on his own farm experience with beef cattle, forestry products and pecans to offer advice to agricultural producers in the region.

And education will be one of his focuses as extension director.

"One of the things we're going to look at is classes," he said. "We want to go a little more high-tech, (create) a 24/7 classroom with PowerPoint presentations, like how to grow blackberries, videos such as how to pour on dewormer, put in ear tags, castration (for livestock), tomato planting, how to calibrate how much volume your sprayer is putting out.

"It's real practical knowledge.

"That's really exciting," Strickland said. "For a little more work, I think we're going to get a lot more contacts."

Specialized extension agents throughout the region will produce the videos, he said.

Also, construction of a "green building" to replace the aging and deteriorating extension headquarters on Oliver Street in Brooksville, adjacent to the county fairgrounds, "is something we will continue to work on," Strickland said.

County budget woes have put a new building on hold for the time being, and Strickland acknowledges he may not get the building he wants.

"There are a lot of different things we will explore," he said.

Strickland is as much a scientist as a farm adviser. He was recently tapped as a member of the editorial board of the peer review journal for the Florida Academy of Science, a prestigious organization that publishes Florida Scientist. The board includes a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, who's also a county extension agent.

With such a strong science background, why choose the extension service as a career?

His uncle, Strickland said, was a county agent.

"I always thought the extension service was the greatest thing in the rural community," he said. "Growing up as a kid in 4-H, the county agent was the thing."

In his new director's role, Strickland will overseeing a horticultural agent, a 4-H agent, a 4-H program assistant, the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods manager and the county cannery.

Hernando County contributes $2,600 to his salary; the remainder of his $65,000 annual salary is paid by the University of Florida Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Strickland will continue as small farm agent as he tackles the job of extension director. He has been doing so since January, when former director Donna Peacock took leave to care for a relative, then resigned.

There's one other thing that Strickland, who lives in Nobleton, wants people to know.

"One thing I would really like to add," he said, "is how much we enjoy living here and how great the people are in Hernando County."

He said he was speaking for himself; his wife, Keri, a school counselor; and their three dogs.

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service director focuses on education 07/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 5:28pm]
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