Saturday, March 2, 2024

A Grateful Student’s Thank You

By Doreen Muzzi

About 30 years ago, a 20-something city girl from Massachusetts began spending an inordinate amount of time at the Delta Research and Extension Center picking the brains of Mississippi State University’s Extension specialists. As a young agricultural journalist and a newly minted partner in our Mississippi Delta family farm, I had a lot to learn. 

I found the perfect teachers. People like Jimmy Smith, Will McCarty, Gordon Andrews, Ted Miller, Joe Street, Alan Blaine, Fred Cooke, Bill Barrentine, Steve Martin and Wayne Ebelhar took me under their wings and spent countless hours selflessly sharing their knowledge. 

Everything I know about the three-cornered alfalfa hopper is thanks to Dr. Andrews’ enthusiastic lessons. Dr. Smith shared stacks upon stacks of his stellar entomology slides to help me identify all types of insects, concurrently turning me into a better photographer. 

Dr. Barrentine patiently answered every soybean production-related question I had and chose to accompany me on a long Amtrak ride to help me prepare for my first Beltwide Cotton Conference in New Orleans. Dr. Blaine added to my soybean knowledge and reviewed countless articles for technical accuracy. Dr. Ebelhar spent many hours teaching me about soil fertility and many other topics. Those of you who know Wayne understand his penchant for sharing knowledge.

Everything I know about cotton is thanks to Dr. McCarty, who spent untold hours teaching me how to calculate nodes above white flower to evaluate cotton maturity. Similarly, nobody taught me more about rice than Joe Street and Dr. Ted Miller, who also piloted me in his helicopter to take aerial photos, and later, in retirement, became our rice consultant.

And the duo of Fred Cooke and Steve Martin are owed hazardous duty pay for their perseverance in educating me about agricultural economics. As someone who never met a math calculation I liked, this was no easy feat.

Soon, I branched out to other southern states on my quest for knowledge. Folks like LSU AgCenter’s Johnny Saichuk, Auburn’s Ron Smith, Georgia’s Bob Kemerait, Virginia Tech’s Tom Kuhar and Arkansas’ Travis Faske joined my trusted resource list. 

Over the years, my knowledge has grown along with my appreciation for the expertise, patience and dedication of land grant university researchers and Extension specialists. These experts are part of an amazing network that enhances agriculture
nationwide.

As an ag communicator who frequently travels the country talking to farmers and industry folks, I’m continuously struck by how lucky we are in the South to have such collaborative Extension experts. These agricultural experts don’t just send out monthly newsletters, they are in the field doing research to ensure production agriculture remains profitable, and they are on our farms helping to identify and solve yield-limiting issues throughout the season.

Even today, when faced with an insect I’m having difficulty identifying, an unusual disease symptom or Italian ryegrass that will likely outlive an apocalyptic event, I’m certain the answer is a quick phone call away. 

I long ago lost count how many times I’ve called Mississippi State’s Tom Allen, Jeff Gore and Jason Bond. I’ve called early mornings, evenings and weekends, and not once have they neglected to help. They go above and beyond each and every day. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that when I make a product or treatment recommendation, my husband, Michael, will respond with, “What did Tom/Jeff/Jason say?”

I’m a smarter ag communicator and grower because of the Extension experts who have, and continue to, selflessly share their time and knowledge with me. 

Please accept this as my delayed Valentine and a salute to all of you who so generously work to make agriculture a more collaborative and successful industry.  

— Doreen Muzzi
Shaw, Mississippi 

Dcmuzzi@gmail.com


Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to csmith@onegrower.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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