November 9, 2021
Extension is About People
One of the many things I love regarding our profession and our system is seeing the excitement and energy of our new colleagues. For this month’s guest writer message, I asked one of our newer colleagues, Dr. Bruno Pedreira, to share a little bit about himself and his views on our profession and mission. I know you will enjoy it…GH
Hello all. I’m Bruno Pedreira, the regional agronomist and extension specialist located in the Southeast Research and Extension Center in Parsons. I was born in Brazil in a livestock family and grew up among pastures, cows and horses. After finishing my graduate program, I worked for 10 years at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation developing extension and research programs in forage and crop-livestock systems.
In 2018-2019, as a visiting scholar at the University of Florida, I decided to apply for this position and got the job offer in December 2020. I went back to Brazil willing to renew my visa and move to Kansas. However, the pandemic shut down the world and I got stuck there for almost 16 months.
Finally, in April 2021, I was able to enter the U.S. and start to explore Kansas agriculture. So far, Kansas is a great place to live and work. I have been very fortunate to interact with agents and producers that work hard to support agricultural production.
In this position, I hope to lead an effective and innovative extension educational program in southeast Kansas. For that reason, in the last six months I have been very focused on visiting agents and farmers to develop my knowledge about Kansas, understanding the people of Kansas, and the communities.
Why am I telling you this? Well, being raised surrounded by farmers (father, uncles and grandparents), I thought I knew their needs. And right after finishing my graduate program, I tried to work with my family but I was too young for them. I went to my first job, and guess what? I was too young for farmers, as well. I was young (late 20s and early 30s) and a few times I heard that I was younger than the crops and cows they were raising. It hurt, but it shaped me.
A few years later (even feeling young), I understood that when somebody has been doing something for a while (or their whole life) it is hard to listen to others, especially young people (or those new in a region with a strong accent). Most of us as extension professionals are younger than the people we serve.
I realized that listening is the best way to develop trust, to establish a connection, and to be able to tell others: “Yes, I got it, and based on that, I have a few suggestions for you.”
Most of the people I talk to were born and raised in farming but not all of them had a chance to find you (an enthusiastic extension professional), to talk with and share experiences with you, and to wonder about a tomorrow different from yesterday.
If you learn to listen and if you truly believe in people, in educating people and sharing your experiences (regardless of your age) to help them to achieve a better life, you are going to make it. Extension is not about forages, corn, beans, cows, water quality, soil, ponds, healthy food, etc… It is about people. It is about people (extension professionals) that take care (training, teaching, mentoring, etc.) of people (farmers, youth, etc.) running a business (farm, ranch, garden, etc.), in order to financially and emotionally support them.
They are what they are because they do what they do and we need to respect it.
So, how can we do it? How can we have a strong extension program? I believe in providing easy access and communication with producers and building close relationships, which can link innovation with agricultural production. I believe in identifying community leaders and developing your program with them. Visit and listen to the community to build a program that contributes to addressing their daily challenges. If they realize the benefits, everything is going to work smoothly.
In my point of view, an effective extension strategy includes the following:
1. A traditional (“hands-on”) interactive process, which includes visiting and discussing with farmers and agents, giving presentations at meetings, field days, training, etc. Also, with on-farm plots, we can demonstrate new technologies and introduce recently released cultivars.
2. In the digital era, research results need to be ‘translated’ to the producers’ language and the science needs to explore more fully the opportunities to use online content to reach extension agents and producers. Online, it is possible to share innovative and useful content; lectures and presentations can be recorded and available online or offered directly online, which everyone can access at anytime and anywhere.
I have used both approaches since 2010 when I started my extension program traveling across Mato Grosso State (the midwestern part of Brazil). I have been using a website (pecuariaintegrada.com.br), Facebook (Bruno Pedreira), Instagram, Twitter (@pedreirabc), and LinkedIn (Bruno C. Pedreira) profiles, which keeps me linked with a large number of people spreading timely information.
I think that the “magic” here is to combine in-person and online opportunities; people need to know you in person, and they will follow you online. They want to attend an in-person event, meet you, feel you, look into your eyes, develop trust, and then, they will listen to your podcast or your YouTube video.
I also believe in getting feedback from them to adjust the next program, always offering something new in the next meeting. Their feedback is important to drive the applied research supporting the extension program with regional and timely data. This approach develops trust and confidence, and increases the success of a program.
Developing an innovative and collaborative extension program is a great challenge and there is no special recipe. However, extension is about people! People who live in society, sharing knowledge generation after generation. So, I wish that together we can go further, developing trust with Kansas people, scientifically supporting Kansas agriculture, and improving the recognition of K-State Research and Extension. Let’s keep making it happen.