Seminole County Extension agent has missionary spirit

Rome Ethredge combines love for outdoors and missionary work

Rome Ethredge, Extension Service agent in Seminole County, checks out some cotton plants. He’s served farmers in the area for more than two decades. (Special Photo: Clint Thompson)

Rome Ethredge, Extension Service agent in Seminole County, checks out some cotton plants. He’s served farmers in the area for more than two decades. (Special Photo: Clint Thompson)

DONALSONVILLE — Rome Ethredge has followed his calling for 26 years. His love for the outdoors and missionary work make his role as the Seminole County University of Georgia Extension agent the perfect fit.

Ethredge’s affection for the outdoors developed at a young age, growing up on the UGA Plains Experiment Station where his father served as the assistant superintendent. Ethredge’s passion for helping others was manifested when his family served as missionaries in west Africa during Ethredge’s high school years. He saw how the farmers’ lives were dependent upon the 2 or 3 acres of crops they produced. Seeing his father educate and improve those lives overseas, inspired Ethredge to do the same.

“During that time, I realized I liked helping people, and I enjoyed that part of serving the public. I think county agents have a missionary’s spirit,” Ethredge said. “I love worshiping God through his creation, seeing the miracle of plant growth — combine all that with a missionary’s spirit — it made me want to be a county agent.

Ethredge has been an agricultural and natural resources agent for 26 years: five and a half years in nearby Decatur County followed by 20 and a half years in Seminole County. He is part of a Seminole County agricultural community that thrives on crops like corn, peanuts and cotton. According to UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, Seminole County generated $110 million in farm gate value in 2013. Its agricultural market accounts for 1,086 jobs.

A reason for Seminole County’s success in the field is that most crops are irrigated. With Seminole County being located on a Florida aquifer, farmers have good access to water. Ethredge said because the aquifer recharges every few years, water access is not likely to diminish. The aquifer is thick in size and gets replenished by rivers and rainfall, unlike aquifers in the West that are being sucked dry.

While having access to irrigation is important, knowing when to apply water is key, too. Of all the questions and concerns Ethredge fields from local farmers, irrigation scheduling tops the list. When should I turn off my water? How much water does my crop need at this point? Those are the type of questions called into the Seminole County UGA Extension office in Donalsonville.

With peanuts and cotton filling pods and bolls at this critical time of the growing season, it is prime time to apply water, said Ethredge. Even though corn will be harvested in the next week or two, irrigation remains an option.

Ethredge also answers pest questions and disease concerns related to Seminole County’s main crops. According to Ethredge, he’s just fulfilling the mission inspired by UGA Extension: To extend lifelong learning to the people of Georgia through unbiased, research-based education in agriculture, the environment, communities, youth and families.

“I think we have a tremendous resource at UGA with our Extension scientists and research scientists. In the counties, the agents are the liaison that brings Extension knowledge to the people, and I think it makes a big difference,” Ethredge said. “The bottom line is to help our communities, especially our small ag communities. Agriculture is so important, if we can help farmers succeed in agribusiness and do better, then we’ve done our job.”

To view the weekly newsletter published by Ethredge, see http://seminolecropnews.wordpress.com/.

Clint Thompson is public relations specialist with the University of Georgia, college of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tifton campus.