Extension service helps farmers, citizens

COVINGTON - Glenn Tippens has 175 lawns to maintain, and it’s up to him to figure out what’s wrong when they’re discolored, diseased and dying.

“The fungus was pretty bad this year due to so many wet hours on the grass,” he said.

Tippens, owner of Newton-based Tippens Landscaping, said he makes six to eight visits a month to Newton County Cooperative Extension for help identifying what type of fungus or other issue is causing problems and get recommendations on the right treatment. Sometimes, Extension Agent Ted Wynne joins him on site to do an assessment.

Recently, the two made a surprising discovery. Probing down into the soil about 5 inches deep, they found a yard that appeared to be diseased was actually just very dry, despite all the recent rain.

If Wynne can’t identify the problem, the extension service sends a soil sample off to the University of Georgia’s Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories.

“No stone goes unturned. Ted resolves everything … You’re pretty confident when you leave, the approach to take on the lawn,” Tippens said.

Exact identification of the problem leads to quick treatment, which affects the bottom line for Tippen, and ultimately, his customers.

“Us as contractors, if we can keep our costs down, that certainly keeps the homeowner’s cost down,” he said.

Turf management is by far the most common question Wynne gets: “I get a lot of people that care a lot about their lawns.”

The extension service sent off 429 soil samples to UGA in fiscal year 2013. There’s too many done in the local office to keep track of, Wynne said. In addition to diagnosing lawn problems, the extension service helps citizens with plant pathology, insect identification, performs water tests, radon tests and more. More than 600 various tests were performed last fiscal year, according to an annual report recently presented by Wynne to the Board of Commissioners.

But again, those are mostly just samples sent to UGA, not the ones done in-house. Forty-three of those samples sent off were for water testing.

”I consult with people every day about water testing, about what may be wrong with it or even what to do to keep their well water safe,” Wynne said, adding that there are more than 5,500 wells in Newton.

Some lending institutions require water testing before closing on a loan with a prospective homeowner, or homeowners need to find out if water in their plumbing system is contaminated, and the extension service can help with that too.

The extension service can also advise on how to get rid of squirrels in the attic, how to save money on cattle feed and how to start a farm or garden.

Last year the service helped a local cattle farmer reduce feed costs by one-third, saving the farmer more than $100,000 a year, according to Wynne. Wynne said he’ll help farmers come up with different combinations of feed that can cut costs and balance rations so cattle can hit target weight.

If there’s a new pest harming crops or plants, the extension service can identify it. The last couple of years, it’s been the Bermuda grass stem maggott, which has migrated to Newton from south Georgia. The maggot lays eggs on grass tops and once they hatch, they bore into the grass and kill it. Wynne’s pretty good at insect identification, though he says he has a hard time with spiders. But Wynne can send a magnified picture of unidentified insects to an entomologist at UGA for assistance.

The extension service also offers free classes for pesticide applicators to earn recertification credits and for the public. Last fiscal year, the extension service held 41 sessions and lunch and learn classes for various organizations on topics such as vegetable gardening, yard maintenance, rain barrels, pruning, stormwater quality and bedding plants.

For all these efforts, Wynne was named County Agent of the Year by the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and won the Distinguished Service Award from the Georgia Association for Agricultural Agents. Other awards to local extension service employees include Secretary of the Year for Debbie Eunice, awarded by the Georgia Association of Extension 4-H Agents, and 4-H Director Terri Kimble Fullerton, who won several awards from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.

4-H falls under the umbrella of the extension service and also reported a successful 2012-2013 year. Local 4-Hers won second place at the state and national levels for their recycling programs. They collected more than 400 pounds of pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House and more than 26,000 new and used books for The Learning Center’s Leap into Learning early literacy program and the Newton County Library. More than 1,000 books were distributed to children at the Covington Christmas Parade by 4-H participants.

Also, 4-Hers donated more than 250 toiletries and more than 60 food items, bedding and toys to the local homeless shelter. They delivered sweets, toiletries and medical supplies to nine fire stations open on Christmas.

4-Hers raised money and awareness for Relay for Life with a youth team captain and coordinated all recycling for Relay as part of the Great American Clean Up.

Newton 4-Hers earned several awards, including the Presidential Award for Community Service, the Prudential Spirit of Community award, and the William H. Danforth “I Dare You” Leadership Award. One 4-Her was selected selected to perform at National 4-H Hall of Fame.

4-H held in-school club meetings in fifth grade classrooms of 10 elementary schools, with a total of 1,023 students participating and at a home school club that included 36 students. A total of 115 middle and high school students met in the evenings through special interest clubs to practice leadership and plan service projects.

This school year, all 10 schools with 4-H programs are requiring demonstrations, meaning about 1,000 projects will be produced by local students.