Your Land Grant Partner

November FloridAgriculture eNewseltter

By J. Scott Angle

Danielle Sprague was a bit scared, she said, when she reported to Jefferson County in 2018 as the new UF/IFAS Extension agriculture agent. She worried that farmers might not immediately accept someone fresh out of school, female, and not from a farm family.

What worried her more than her age, gender and family was that she wasn’t from there.

Jefferson County Farm Bureau President Ernest Fulford said he remembers everything except for the scared and worried part. What he remembers is a new agent asking, “What can I do for you?” and a question he hadn’t heard for some time: “Can I come to the Farm Bureau meetings?”

Danielle attends every month. She’s also at the Farm Credit of Northwest Florida events Ernest is involved in as a board member. She’s at the Jefferson County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee meetings, led by Ernest’s wife, Sarah. She goes to at Young Farmer & Rancher events that Ernest’s son, Clay, participates in at the county and state level.

Danielle was also at the Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual annual meeting in late October. She didn’t have to invite herself to that. She was there to be honored as Extension Professional of the Year. Previous winners had decades of service. We’re proud to have Danielle on the UF/IFAS Extension team.

Ernest nominated Danielle in her third year on the job. He wrote in the nomination, “Danielle filled the void we didn’t even know we had!” She helped start a Farm to Table 4-H camp in the county, revitalize a local Young Farmers & Ranchers committee and recruited volunteer board members to restart a local cattlemen’s association. She cooperates with Jefferson County Farm Bureau on fundraising, reads to youth in classrooms on Ag Literacy Day, helps organize farm tours, and collects peanut butter for the UF/IFAS Peanut Butter Challenge, all in addition to her educational Extension programming.

Ernest runs into Danielle at Carrie Ann & County, a local restaurant in downtown Monticello, when they’re both hungry. Sprague even helps with the harvest, visiting Fulford’s farm to help weigh and record. She’s become a family friend.

Ernest believes Danielle may know every grower in Jefferson County. Even in a county with a single blinking red light, that takes some leg work. Danielle has fit in so well that now the growers are asking all the questions.

If it’s a yes/no question, the answer is yes. Like last year, when Mack Glass asked Sprague if she’d start a newsletter for the fledgling Cold Hardy Citrus Association. “When Mack Glass calls and asks me to do something, you can bet I do it,” Danielle says.

If it’s a high stakes question—like what is this insect in my field and do I need to worry about it?–she can be trusted. When it’s an arcane question like digging speed versus yield, she’ll answer that she doesn’t know but she’ll find out. And she does.

Ernest had some time to talk about Danielle while harvesting last month, especially since he was running the digger a lot slower than he customarily does. He had asked Danielle the previous week if increasing digging speed decreases yield. Like with many questions, Sprague didn’t know the answer right away. And like with most questions, it didn’t take her long to find out.

Danielle produced a study that concluded that every mile per hour faster than 2.5 mph that you run a digger, you lose about 200 pounds per acre in yield. So after decades of running the digger faster, Ernest is spending more time in the field harvesting now, going slower to get those bigger yields.

Now the Jefferson County Farm Bureau asks Danielle a question they’d normally ask someone who’s from the area: who to nominate for farm family of the year. Local farmers recognize the value of a good Extension agent is not just in what she knows. It’s in who she knows.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).