Serving Farmers in Bolivar County
By Mark H. Stowers
County Ag Extension agents have to be a library of knowledge on all things agriculture in their county. Along the way they continue learning and figure out just how to disseminate that knowledge in the best ways. For most, it’s face to face interaction but for Zach Gaylor, his first year behind the ag agent desk was right in the middle of COVID.
Gaylor came to town as the newest Bolivar County Extension Agent in October of 2020. His official title is Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent.
“My primary responsibilities are agriculture working directly with farmers in the county offering assistance and expertise when needed,” says Gaylor. “It’s exciting and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve started.”
Gaylor, a 2019 Auburn grad with a Horticulture Degree with an emphasis in Fruit and Vegetable Production is also pursuing a graduate degree in Agri-Business Management at Mississippi State University. His wife, Morgan Cheatham, has a line of bulldog heritage as her parents matriculated there. Morgan received her graduate degree from Auburn in 2018 where she and Zach met.
Before coming to Bolivar County, the Gaylors were living in North Carolina where Zach managed a nursery. But, when Morgan was offered the opportunity to pursue her PhD at MSU in Aquaculture economics and work at Stoneville in catfish production, they made the trek to the Magnolia State.
“She came in August and I got the job shortly after she arrived here. Then, I moved down from North Carolina and we closed on our first house here in Cleveland,” he says.
With the pandemic in full force, one of Zach’s first jobs was to figure out how to pull of the annual Ag Expo The intention was to host a shorter one-day event in Stoneville where participants could attend in-person or tune in virtually. Unfortunately, due to the week of freezing rain and snow in mid-February, the event was cancelled. In lieu of the virtual Delta Ag Expo, the MSU Row Crops Team released virtual educational programs to provide producers with information as they prepared for the upcoming growing season.
“It was a difficult time of year to enter into a position like this with no face-to-face meetings being held,” he says.
Gaylor also works with the local 4H Club and has been assisting Dr. Bill Burdine with his 4H Agronomy Experiments that members can do at home.
“Youths in the county can contact me and I’ll get them a kit to work on this summer. There will also be a 4H Agronomy camp at MDCC this summer,” he says. “I’ll be looking to develop my own local program and I’ll talk to the schools and the things they might be interested in,” he says.
With his background in fruits and vegetables, Gaylor is eager to put in a home garden but the new house has plenty of other inside projects that need tending.
“I don’t have any gardens set up just yet. We’ve been doing house renovations but I’ll definitely be doing that sooner rather than later,” he says.
Even with the short time on the job, Gaylor’s favorite part of the job is meeting farmers and getting to know them and learn about their challenges.
“It’s a mutual relationship,” he says. “We learn from each other.”
Before the flooding in mid-June, Gaylor’s mind was on getting irrigation information out to farmers and assisting them with the adoption and use of soil moisture sensor technology. Farmers will still need to irrigate crops that were unaffected but many challenging management decisions have resulted from the excessive rainfall and flood damage.
“We had a fairly cool spring but I’m working with Dr. Drew Gholston, our irrigation extension specialist. We’ll recruit farmers to participate in a soil moisture sensor installation on their farm,” he says. “We’ll supply the sensors and the telemetry or base units the sensors work with.”
The sensors will then send data to an app on smartphones to help farmers know when to irrigate.
Working with farmers and being available to the public for just about any ag related problem or situation, Gaylor knows when he picks up the phone, it could be just about anyone needing help.
“As they say in extension, you never quite know what kind of call you’re going to get. We deal with a broad range of issues and aspects. It’s really fun and engaging. You might have a plan for your day but it may change completely.”
When not tackling ag issues in the county and working on home renovation projects, Gaylor finds time to create in the kitchen.
“I love to cook,” he says. “I really love southern food. Scratch biscuits are my favorite thing to make. Growing up, my dad used to make us biscuits for breakfast. Around eighteen or nineteen, I really got into cooking at home,” he says.
Gaylor is learning the ins and outs of the ag agent world.