An Outstanding Asset to the Extension Service
By Jack Criss
Based in Tate County, Tarah Ferguson has been an Extension Agent for eight and a half years in the Senatobia office and has established a great reputation in the position. Her job consists primarily of a focus on agricultural issues with an emphasis on 4-H work but also working with farmers on various issues like pesticide education and overseeing various research plots in the county.
“My greatest joy is working with the 4-H livestock program–my passion is really there, working with the young people and livestock shows,” says Ferguson. “I love seeing these kids succeeding in their 4-H work and in helping them do so. Success is measured in different ways for these young people, though: I recently worked with a special needs child and, for him, getting in the ring for the first time and doing his best was a highlight. Of course, there are also students who grew up showing and, to them, it’s very competitive. Seeing them all succeed, though, and forming bonds and working together as a team is my true passion.”
As a youngster, Ferguson was one of those kids who had been around ag and cattle all of her life.
“I practically grew up in 4-H while living in Colombia in South Mississippi and showing cattle. My family had a fairly successful registered cattle operation so I had been in that environment all of my life. I went on to receive my undergrad degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi in Biology and Chemistry with a Minor in Psychology. Originally I had planned to go into physical therapy school and training, but in my senior year I realized that I wanted to do something else. So, I revamped my classes that year and went for a Zoology degree.
My family also had a thriving feed store in Colombia so I worked there for several years until I met my future husband and that’s what led me to move to Tate County–he works for Mississippi Farm Bureau here,” says Ferguson. “The extension agent job came open about six months after we got married and so I applied and was subsequently hired. While working, I also obtained my Master’s Degree in Ag Education from Mississippi State. So, my background is a little different from my counterparts.”
“It’s funny, though, because at this point I think the most valuable part of my college studies was my Psychology minor because of all the different people and personalities I deal with on a daily basis!” she laughs.
“My biggest challenge on the job is balance,” says Ferguson. “Balancing my work with farmers along with keeping the 4-H program going strong–there’s a lot of overlap. Plus, my husband and I oversee two cattle operations ourselves and that work has to be balanced with my career as well. It’s especially challenging during this time of year when livestock season is in full swing.”
Ferguson says that each county in Mississippi has at least one of their own Extension Agents and that all are state employees, working under the auspices of Mississippi State University’s Extension Agency.
As far as future career goals, Ferguson says she prefers to focus on the present instead. “I like where I am right now in my job and I love the support I have in the county and in the community.” she says. “I work with a great group of farmers, landowners and all the kids and parents involved in 4-H are wonderful–I’m very happy and content with how things presently are here. Every single day brings something new and I have a lot of freedom in what I choose to work on–so, yes, I’m more focused on the day-to-day aspects of my job and that’s gratifying and satisfying enough.”
Her proudest moments on the job? “Several years back I helped bring the livestock show back to the Mid-South Fair after it had left Memphis and moved to the Landers Center in Southaven, having gone through some major transitions,” she says. “It ended up being a really great show with, at one point, us having over 300 entries from five different states the last time we put it on. We also brought in the Farmtastic program to the Fair to educate kids about agriculture and farming. Unfortunately, for financial reasons, the ag segment of the Fair had to be cut. But while we were there it was a wonderful experience–I look back at that as a high point in my career.
Also, up until the pandemic hit, I would take a group of students to the annual 4-H conference in Washington, D.C. every year,” adds Ferguson, “and that was a fantastic experience and always a highlight for me. My kids would be able to interact with students from all over the U.S. and even some from Japan and other countries around the world. They would form committees and then interact with college facilitators and federal agency officials giving them incredible hands-on experience with problem solving and working together as a group. While there, I would also take my group to meet with our state legislators. In fact, several of the students who went on those trips are now legislative interns. Also, the current student body president at Mississippi State, Tyler Packer, was one of the students who made the visit with us one year. We took those trips for five years straight and always came away with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm. It was canceled this year, but hopefully we can get back at some point soon.”
With her strong educational background and having grown up around the work she’s currently involved in, Tarah Ferguson surely is an outstanding asset to the Extension Agency and a credit to her job.