Exploring this Job
To get a sense of the job, you can read the pamphlets and occupational information brochures published by the USDA about this field, and you can request meetings with your local agricultural agent. Any of the state agricultural colleges will send materials or release the name of the local agent for interested students. You can also visit these colleges' Web sites for more information.
Another way to prepare to explore this field is to join groups such as 4-H, National FFA Organization, and the Boy or Girl Scouts. You may also volunteer to work at an extension office. It may be possible to visit with farmers or others engaged in agriculture to hear their impressions of the work carried on by the agricultural consultants in your particular county.
Agricultural consultants teach agricultural subjects at places other than college campuses. The aim of these educational programs is to teach agricultural workers to analyze and solve agricultural problems. They cover such topics as soil and crop improvement, livestock, farm machinery, fertilizers, new methods of planting, technology, and any other subject that may be of assistance to the farmer. Classroom settings are avoided. Rather, the consultants work on-site, possibly while the farmer is engaged in planting or harvesting, or in small evening meetings of five or six farmers. Occasionally, classes are offered in more formal settings during which the consultant speaks before larger groups and makes presentations.
County agricultural agents work closely with federal agricultural agents in gathering information to be presented to the farmers. Information on agronomy (the theory and practice of soil management and crop production), livestock, marketing, agricultural and home economics, horticulture, and entomology (the study of insects) may come either from the state agricultural college or from NIFA. The county agricultural worker's job is to review the new information, decide what is most pertinent to local operations, and then present it as effectively as possible to the farmers in that particular area. The county or federal extension service agent's work is primarily educational in nature and is aimed at increasing the efficiency of agricultural production and marketing and the development of new and different markets for agricultural products.
County agricultural agents also work closely with family and community educators (FCEs), who assist and instruct families on ways to improve their home life. This work ranges from offering advice and suggestions on preserving fruits and vegetables to improving health care and nutrition, assisting in balancing family budgets, and handling family stress. The FCE is responsible for keeping current in every area relating to the rural home and for sharing this information with families in a particular county or group of counties.
4-H Club agents organize and direct the educational projects and activities of the 4-H Club, the largest out-of-school youth program in the United States. More than 7 million youths participate in 4-H Clubs in rural and urban settings. 4-H educational programs focus on building lifelong learning skills that develop youth potential. An extensive set of programs is designed to engage youth in healthy learning experiences, increasing self-esteem, and problem-solving skills. Programs address stress management, self-protection, parent-teen communication, personal development, careers, and global understanding. Youth are encouraged to explore science, technology, and citizenship. 4-H Club agents analyze the needs of individuals and the community, develop teaching materials, train volunteers, and organize exhibits at state and county fairs. They also introduce children and adolescents to techniques in raising animals and plants, including breeding, husbandry, and nutrition.
Due to technological advancements in electronic communication, there are interesting opportunities for careers in communications with NIFA. There is a degree of specialization involved, especially at the federal level. Federal agricultural consultants often become program leaders who are responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with various land-grant colleges, universities, government agencies, and private agencies involved in agriculture. In some cases, they also become educational research and training specialists responsible for developing research programs in all phases of consulting work. The results of these programs are shared with the various state agencies.
Subject matter specialists develop programs through which new information can be presented to the farmers effectively. Educational media specialists condense information and distribute it as it becomes available to the states for use in their local extension programs. These consultants may be designated extension service specialists. An extension service worker who is in charge of programs for a group of counties is known as a district extension service agent.