MSU Extension assists top ag industries during crisis
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Necessary restrictions on travel and gatherings are affecting how the Mississippi State University Extension Service operates, but its ability to respond to the needs of its clients, the public and state agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic continues uninterrupted.
Extension’s roles during crises are many: emergency management, local level assistance, support for the state’s agricultural industry, and dissemination of public information and education.
Specialists with MSU Extension and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station continue to respond to the concerns of those working in the state’s largest industry, agriculture. Mississippi producers -- including the state’s largest agricultural commodities, poultry and forestry -- still have Extension faculty consulting with them and advocating on their behalf as they face economic uncertainty.
“Poultry growers and the integrators they grow birds for are still producing food for our tables, and much of my job recently has been reassuring them that we will get through these difficult times and come out stronger on the other side,” said Extension poultry specialist Tom Tabler. “Most poultry growers already understand the concept of biosecurity and the practices they follow to keep their flocks safe. Today, they are also applying these same principles in their human lives just as they are in the lives of their poultry flocks.”
Tabler added that the nation’s poultry integrators continue operations and are working overtime to restock empty grocery store shelves.
“Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms is adjusting its product mix and production volumes at its five plants that process chicken for customers to meet the increased demand,” he said. “Many other integrators across the state and nation are making similar adjustments and are running plants on Saturdays to provide safe, affordable, high-quality poultry products. Extension’s poultry specialists are available to answer their questions and address concerns from poultry growers, the general public or county Extension personnel that may receive questions from their clients.”
Extension’s Professional Logging Manager program courses are being retooled for online delivery in April. This program includes classes in timber harvesting, transportation safety, forest certification and best management practices for water quality. The main concern among loggers is how COVID-19 will affect the operation of mills, said Extension forestry specialist John Auel.
“Loggers have to go through the PLM program before they are allowed to haul to mills certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which takes about 85% of our volume each year,” Auel said. “Coming off last year, when they’ve already been able to work so little because of wet weather, potential mill closures added on to that can be devastating. We’re working with other Extension units to find avenues for small business relief and creating an online training option as a stopgap so our loggers can still work and as a future option for those who cannot attend in-person trainings.”
In an effort to support students without internet access, local Extension offices have offered access to Wi-Fi. Because closures vary, clients are encouraged to call the county office before visiting. The soil testing and plant pathology labs are still processing samples, and clients should ask local agents for help with those processes.
In addition, Extension provides research-based information to local governing bodies and the public. It coordinates responses to needs related to public health, agricultural damage assessment, and rescue and shelter operations for domestic animals and livestock.
For emergency management, MSU Extension places its strike teams on standby for volunteer and donations management to respond to emergencies on a local level. Extension is one of many supporting organizations outlined in Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Response Plan to assist when states of emergency are declared.
“The capabilities we offer are applicable in all hazards and emergencies,” said Anne Howard Hilbun-Benoit, instructor with the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development. “We have people who are trained to coordinate volunteer management strike teams and distribution of donations to the public after a disaster, and we have Extension personnel who conduct agricultural damage assessment and provide that information to federal and state agencies.
“We join these agencies -- including the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi State Department of Health, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, and the Mississippi Board of Animal Health -- in a unified effort to provide public health information and best practices, particularly to our farmers,” she added.
Extension’s Office of Agricultural Communications has produced research-based, practical content related to COVID-19, ranging from two-week, pantry-based family meal plans to creative teaching strategies for parents while their children are missing traditional school. This content includes videos, news articles, publications and blog entries available at http://extension.msstate.edu/coronavirus.