Being ‘expert’ on ag changes can be humbling, agent says


Extension Agricultural Agent Rickey Roberts has found constant change and adaptation the par for the course in his 10 years in Marion County.

A farmer may have found his fields infested with Roundup-resistant pig weed, somebody in a city needs help in determining why their ancient Bur Oak tree isn’t doing well, and both a 4-H member and a beef producer need help with cattle in situations that can be extremely different.

Roberts is required to be a generalist in a world of growing specialization. He must rely on the specialists on the Kansas State University staff to help find answers for the public.

His own specializations have usually been in livestock.

“I was a long way from being an agronomist,” he said.

But that’s a reason why he likes where he’s at.

And, he agrees that a college education mostly prepares you to learn what you need to know on the job.

Roberts considers his original roots to be Crescent, Okla., where he grew up. But he’s lived several places since then.

His degrees in agricultural education are a bachelor of science from Oklahoma State University and a master of science from K-State.

He came to Marion County from Cimarron after teaching animal science at Dodge City Community College.

Roberts also has taught high school agriculture in Oklahoma and at Garden City.

The reality of being both a generalist and a specialist for all people continued to impress him in his work.

“I don’t mean to be self-deprecating,” he said. “But it’s always a challenge to keep up on everything. That’s even true in 4-H. There’s a lot there. There really is. It’s all changing constantly.

“It can be so frustrating. I have all of Kansas State University at my fingertips, but if nobody’s done the research on something, or it’s in progress, they may not know yet.

“It’s like that oak tree in Marion. In the lab at K-State, they found no disease in it, nothing. So, there it is, a 30-foot tree that’s important to their yard…. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem taking trees out where they’re problems in pastures or fields.”

Roberts said all the changes make him wonder what the future will be like.

For instance, he said genetically engineered Roundup-ready alfalfa has finally been released for seed companies to sell after clearing environmental legal challenges.

Farmers can spray alfalfa fields with Roundup, or a generic version of the herbicide, which should kill the weeds after contact and then go dormant when it hits the ground.

The first fields of this alfalfa have been planted by farmers in Marion County. But resistance-responsive plants such as pigweed are already creating problems in fields of Roundup-resistant corn and soybeans that have rapidly adapted to being crop mainstays here in just the past few years, he said.

“It illustrates these tools, these changes, will never stay the same,” he said. “There’s always going to be a need for new research to update our practices for the challenges. There’s always going to be a job and learning here to do for a lifetime and longer.”

There are always new seeds, new herbicides, new varieties, a constantly changing world, Roberts said. He doesn’t expect anybody or any researchers fully to know what the conditions will be like in just five years.

Adding to the challenges, he said, the soils, conditions and practices make differences on each farm.

Roberts also has to be a “people person,” listening carefully to producers about particular situations where they might need help.

The word “extension” itself implies being “extended” in knowledge or needs over a broad area, Roberts said.

“It can be humbling.”

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