Extension Leader Looks to Preserve Agriculture


Rogers photoLeaders are change agents, but the new Extension boss for Southwest Florida, Brenda Rogers, sees a big part of her job as the preservation of agriculture.

To Rogers, that means saving citrus. It also means stemming the tide of concrete that continues to wash over farmland. That can probably only happen if Extension can help make it as profitable to grow food as it is to grow subdivisions.

When Dean of Extension Nick Place and I looked for the first new Extension leader in 14 years for our South Central District, we wanted someone with a deep appreciation for agriculture and Extension tradition.

Rogers grew up the daughter of a third-generation Florida dairy farmer. Her dad’s operation was in Manatee County, and her grandfather and great-grandfather farmed in Pinellas County. She’s a proud member of the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame, inducted as Agriculturalist of the Year in 2009. She was honored in 2006 as a Friend of the Manatee County Farm Bureau.

For years she worked as a UF/IFAS Manatee County Extension agent. Since 2010, she’s been director of the Manatee County Community Services Department, in charge of agriculture, the Extension service, and other government functions. She led discussions on agricultural land stewardship programs and agricultural awareness education.

She’ll continue to organize Leadership Manatee’s Agriculture Day and to serve on the Manatee County Farm-City Week Committee.

Rogers has an office in Plant City, but she has already crisscrossed her territory from Dade City to Naples in her Toyota Camry hybrid. In just a few months she visited 67 Extension agents, whether they work in Immokalee, Bartow, Seffner, Palmetto or points between.

That kind of face-to-face contact will be essential to her success. Rogers leads 11 county Extension directors, who are in turn the bosses of the agents who directly serve you. Rogers’s job is to learn what it is you need and then equip her agents to provide you with it.

She’ll continue to support Extension’s work in helping struggling growers come up with a Plan B that allows them to stay in agriculture and not have to sell their land to developers. Through field days, workshops, field visits, and an expanding Web library of how-to documents, her district will continue to educate farmers on possibilities.

If you need to talk to Brenda, she needs to listen. You can reach her at bgrogers@ufl.edu or 813-757-2195.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

By Jack Payne