COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Teamwork, collaboration and specialization are what define Ohio State University Extension, aspects of the organization that outgoing OSU Extension assistant director Steve Baertsche attributes to its success and sees as keys to shaping its future.
Baertsche, who has held the position for 15 years, will bid farewell to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences with his retirement on March 31. But during his time at the university, the Hardin County native says OSU Extension has been successful in aligning itself with the needs of its clients and sees a bright future ahead.
"I'm honored to have been able to serve in this position and have been blessed to have worked with so many great administrators, faculty and support staff. It has truly been a team within a team here," said Baertsche. "But it's time to move on and allow other new, young minds to come in and rethink how Extension can move forward."
Don Breece, an OSU Extension farm management specialist, will serve as interim assistant director, effective April 1.
Baertsche began his Ohio State University career as an OSU Extension sheep specialist in animal sciences in 1980 before moving into the assistant director position in 1993. It was during that time that the university lost a number of experienced and highly respected teachers and researchers through a retirement buy-out. Concerns about the viability of Extension soon followed.
"Commodity groups, agricultural businesses, and farmers were concerned about our relevance to them. Back then, it was more of a top-down approach to reaching clients," said Baertsche. "In response, Extension restructured itself to include more teamwork and less segregation, more communication and more opportunities to promote Extension educator specializations. That was seen as a valuable way of relating to farmers and it's been very successful."
Part of that success has come from the development of multidisciplinary teams within Extension that emphasize the specialization of each team.
"The Extension Nursery Landscape and Turf Team was used as a model to create this synergy of agents working together. The first team formed from this model was the Agronomic Crops Team, and the rest is history," said Baertsche. Today OSU Extension boasts over 20 teams that address commodities and issues ranging from economics to livestock to sustainable agriculture.
OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center have also bridged the communications and teamwork gap, allowing for more cross-disciplinary emphasis.
"It used to be that OARDC was more research and Extension was more teaching. Now it's transparent. I can't think of too many Extension specialists now who don't have OARDC appointments," said Baertsche. "The strengthened cohesiveness with OARDC has allowed Extension to get more involved in applied research and that has been a great value to our clients."
Not only is there teamwork with OARDC, but faculty, county educators, specialists and associates all within Extension, have pulled together to produce materials, resource tools and programs that have also contributed to the organization's success.
Baertsche said that the creation of such resource tools as the Crop Observation and Recommendation Network (C.O.R.N.) newsletter, the OSU Extension Beef Team newsletter, and the Ohio Ag Manager newsletter, along with programs ranging from aquaculture to Woodland Stewards to the new Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program have all proved invaluable to users across the state.
"With Extension available to provide research-based, educational information, it never ceases to amaze me that some people think that they should only be getting their information through the private sector," said Baertsche.
So what roads should OSU Extension take for the future? Baertsche has some ideas:
• Identifying and targeting farm niches. "Ten percent of the farms will still produce 90 percent of the products, but the other 90 percent of farmers will still need help with alternative marketing opportunities," said Baertsche.
• Investing in more human resource management opportunities. "There is a huge vacuum in training related to farm management, recruitment, retention and labor," said Baertsche. "That's a big worry for farmers. Where will they find tomorrow's labor pool to remain competitive?"
• Networking with certified crop consultants. "Crop consultants are going to have a huge impact on crop production decisions," said Baertsche. "Extension needs to be there to continue working closely with that group."
• Increasing collaborations with other universities. "Find some way to cost share faculty/staff positions with other universities," said Baertsche. "We are seeing more families crossing state lines, and public funding resources are becoming more limited. We've got to find more unique ways to share our research."
• Utilizing more technology, such as geospatial applications. Such technology has implications for positioning Extension for the future.