When Greg Comer, Ohio County Agriculture Extension Agent talks about the current growing season, he does so with pride. The corn fields around Hartford are spectacular. Greg fondly calls the deep dark green color of the leaves, ‘black gold’. “It’s after the nitrogen grabs the corn, and it starts getting hot, it just takes off growing.” Excitement in his voice describes what most drive past everyday without a great deal of thought. “It’s been a good year so far for the corn crop, in fact several years of record production. Three years ago, Ohio County had the highest corn average in the state, two years ago the second highest corn average in the state. Growing 300 bushel corn (per acre).”
With 380,000 acres, Ohio County is the Fifth largest county in the commonwealth, and amazingly enough, about half of the county is forest. Comer said, “this is a good productive county, our farmers work hard, and have little to no interest in entering contests, or bragging. They are more interested in working hard and making money, and having fun when they aren’t working”.
November 1, 2018, Comer will have finished his 31st year as the longest tenured ag agent ever in Ohio County. Of the last three agents, John Cavanaugh held the position for 25-26 years, the gentleman before him for 20 some odd years. Down the road, Comer is estimating that within the next five to 10 years he will hand everything over to the next agent. “As long as the good Lord gives me the health to be able to do what I want to do then I’m going to do it” said the cancer survivor. When Cavanaugh retired, the trend was occurring in Ohio County, along with the rest of the country. Full time family farms and farmers were becoming a thing of the past. Fathers were stepping down, handing the reigns over to sons who were returning to the farm, many as part time farmers because most hold some type of public job, and farm on the side, either with cattle or another type of livestock.
Comer was part of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture team that actively sought out the poultry industry. Before Perdue was chosen, several companies were considered, and twenty years down the road, Comer is still glad Perdue was chosen because of the way they support this community. “Perdue has a fifty million dollar investment here, they made this a relationship with the community in order to have enough product for the poultry plant to operate at an optimum; Perdue needed about about a fifty million dollar investment on the part of the farmers. So it’s truly a cooperative effort.” He estimates that there are approximately 250 to 300 poultry houses in the county. He added quickly, “the great thing is, even with that number, you have to look to find them.” He credits Perdue with having the experience and foresight to help the local growers select locations to minimize problems.
One thing people don’t realize is how diverse the knowledge base must be for an agent. Since Ohio County does not have a Horticulture Agent, those issues fall under Comers authority. Anything agriculture related is Comer’s responsibility, so he is pulled in many directions, one of the aspects he truly enjoys most about his job.
Technology stands out as the one thing that has helped farmers the most in his tenure. Comer explains, “It’s made their life easier in some respect, and probably more stressful in other respects. Todays larger tractors are computerized, along with the additional equipment, like planters and sprayers; mapping the field with GPS, then the guidance system will drive the tractor across the field, once at the end of the row, the farmer turns the tractor into the next row, and the computer can take over again. This ensures that every plant gets the best opportunity for optimum growth, to get maximum yield, going for a perfect stand and perfect in sunlight reception. The same technology is used when spraying the crop, it prevents waste, not over spraying or wasting seed helps with cutting cost. That technology wasn’t there 20 years ago, so yes, some of the older farmers, at times being less tech savy, are turning to the next generation to take over. The younger guys get in the tractor and just love it, the older guys, end up turning it all off, because they can’t get used to it”. Ever humble Comer adds “When I leave maybe I’ll have slowed down enough that if I didn’t step aside, I’d be holding some of the farmers back.”
Farming today, is high tech, especially the grain guys. Drones are being utilized flying over the fields trying to figure out what problems may be occurring during the season so they can be addressed in the off season. Even during season, drones can be equipped with infra-red technology that can actually read the color of leaves, advising what may be needed, (for example extra nitrogen) to again maximize yield.
When talking about the days of showing sheep as a family activity, Comer is proud to be a third generation sheep farmer, teaching his children the same things that had been handed down to him. “It gave them a sense of the rural life” and he’s proud to have been able to do that with his family. He speculates that just maybe his four month old grandchild may get to follow the same path into the show ring one day.
There’s a to do list every day when he comes in, however it changes every day. That’s one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. The challenge of learning something new, staying informed of what’s happening. “I learn something new everyday. Somebody will walk in with a unique weed, that I may have seen before, but don’t know it by name, or even an insect that they found somewhere, they need to know about, even 31 years later, that’s the fun part of this job and why I like coming to work everyday.”
— Kathrine Newman, myKYNews.com