Extension in the Rows
Lamarcus Phillips, Tony Dantzler, and Charlie Pilkinton with dog Drake
Successful production-agriculture operation thrives with Extension assistance
He’s a locomotive engineer by night but a row-crop farmer by day. And even though Tony Dantzler doesn’t get much sleep in his Artesia home, he is quick to say he’s living his dream.
“Wherever you work and whatever you do, you’ve got to have a passion for it. That’s what I’ve got, a love and a passion for my work—especially farming,” he emphasizes. “You have to stay the course. If you can do it, you’ll be rewarded.”
Dantzler’s whole life has been a study in hard work. He started his first job in 1982 on Charlie Pilkinton’s Northeast Mississippi farm, and Pilkinton says Dantzler’s dedicated work ethic motivated him to make Dantzler a partner.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service has provided solutions, support, and expertise during the expansion as Dantzler and his brother, Lamarcus “Billy Bob” Phillips, joined Pilkinton as full partners. Phillips, like Dantzler, works at another job as a Columbus Fire Department engineer, but the brothers agree, Extension agents help them maintain their farm’s profitability.
Dantzler relied on Extension assistance almost from the very beginning of his career, he says.
“My daddy worked on a farm pretty much all his life, and I grew up farming wheat and soybeans. I started working on this farm when I was 12, and I’ve always been interested in farming—just fascinated with it,” Dantzler remembers. “Back then, I would call the Lowndes County Extension agent, Brian Atkins, whenever we ran into a problem I didn’t understand or wasn’t familiar with.”
The faces of the agricultural agents and specialists have changed over the decades, but the research-based expertise provided by Extension continues to help Dantzler maintain the farm’s profitability.
Work through Challenges
Pilkinton first received Extension assistance at his Artesia farm when agents provided a soil sampling. In the years that followed, Extension became his go-to service whenever unexpected challenges arose.
“Extension helps when we have problems growing crops. Extension has always helped us whenever we had insect problems or fungus problems,” Pilkinton says. “It’s pretty hard to stay in the farming business, and you need to use every resource available to you to keep your farm profitable. The Extension Service is a very valuable resource to us.”
Back in the 1990s, Pilkinton continues, many Golden Triangle farmers began growing corn. The need for an Extension corn specialist developed, and after Extension leadership consulted with the local corn producers, Erick Larson was hired.
Pilkinton was quick to recommend the Extension Service to Dantzler when they began working together and questions or challenges arose.
“When we didn’t have a crop consultant, I would call the Lowndes County Extension agent. He was very helpful,” Dantzler recalls. “Over the last few years, our county agent has changed to Reid Nevins, and he’s really good. He’s always willing to come out to the farm and see if he can help us.”
In fact, Nevins is so immediately accessible whenever Dantzler needs assistance that Dantzler rarely visits Nevins in his Extension office in Columbus. Nevins says that’s just how he treats all his clients.
“If clients are having problems—weed pressure or disease pressure—I’ll come right out to help,” Nevins says. “The key is to identify the problem and figure out what to do before it gets worse.”
Nevins also relies on Extension specialists to help Dantzler address challenges. Whatever the issue may be, Nevins maintains his role is to help farmers find the best ways to overcome it and maintain profitability.
Partners in Support
Whether it’s assisting with crop selection or providing technical assistance, Extension provides the most up-to-date scientific information to assist farmers. Dantzler, Phillips, and Pilkinton Farms, the co-owners agree, is one of many production operations benefitting from the opportunity to partner with Extension in planting trial varieties.
“I first used Extension’s variety trials to figure out which soybeans to plant. They helped me tremendously,” Pilkinton says. Dantzler agrees, adding that their farm has grown corn variety test plots during the past few years.
“These variety test plots have been very good for us,” he says. “If we have any questions about what’s going on, Reid is always willing to come right out to see if he can help us.”
Dantzler also recommends farmers take advantage of Extension support offered annually at the Row Crop Short Course. Producers learn more about a variety of topics relevant to them, including chemical drift, insects, and disease.
“This year, one of the big themes was how to survive this upcoming farm season with low commodity prices. Extension made suggestions about things we can do to stay in business,” Dantzler says. “Also, they talked about some corn varieties and some soybean varieties, and which ones farmers should consider for selection. We talked about drift control, too.
“It was positive information that will help us during the next season.”
Extension also provides farmers with the technology assistance they need to support the most efficient crop production.
“A lot of the time, farmers don’t get the chance to learn all the latest information that’s out there,” Dantzler says. “Our Extension agent is always up-to-date with the latest information on technology that helps farmers. What may have worked for you in the past could be outdated now. So, when you have a question, Extension agents are there to update you, and they may be able to save you some money in the process.”
Use Your Extension
Dantzler recommends all Magnolia State farmers meet and get to know their Extension agent—it’s easy because Extension has local offices in all 82 counties.
“Extension agents are eager to get out there and help,” Dantzler emphasizes. “They’re there in the good times, but, then, everybody’s there in the good times. Extension is there to help you make it in the bad times, too.
“Extension is always there for Mississippi farmers.”