The 'new' guy: Kevin Johnson takes over as Extension director
By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 10, 2011 1:46 PM
Kevin Johnson walks the wheat crop on a farm in Fremont during his first day as the new director of the Wayne County Extension Service. He replaces Howard Scott.
Growing up on his family's farm in Lincoln County, Kevin Johnson knew at an early age that he wanted to be a Cooperative Extension Service agent.
He realized that dream, and now Johnson, 41, who has been the county's agronomist and field crops agent since January 2001, on Monday became the new director of the Wayne County Extension office, succeeding Howard Scott, who recently retired.
For Johnson, the job is about more than just agriculture -- it is about building relationships and working to improve quality of life countrywide.
"I love being out there talking with the people," Johnson said. "Any time when you can make those impacts and see that they are changing people and improving their lives, improving their farms and their profitability, that's very satisfying, very satisfying.
"I have a strong relationship with the farm community and that will help. I still need to make a lot of contacts throughout the community. I am not nearly at the level that Howard was. We have a lot of these relationships developed, but we still need to get out in the community and be very visible, let people know who we are and what we offer, what we can do for them."
Johnson said he does not look at his new job as just being the boss, but being a support for the people who work in the Extension office.
"It is to give a vision for the entire Extension program, which is not just agriculture, but is also 4-H and family and consumer sciences," he said. "Howard was very involved in the community.
"I am, too, but not really to the level that he was, but he had been around forever and maybe in time that will happen. Anybody who took this role is coming into the shadow of Howard. So I have to create my own vision."
One of the biggest tasks Johnson said he will face is budgeting at a time when the state is looking to trim expenses.
"I think that is the biggest task for everybody," he said. "Finding the resources and funds to continue to do our programs will be a big challenge."
Another challenge will be remaining the county's field crops agent while at the same time overseeing the entire office.
"Eventually, hopefully, there will be the opportunity to replace my position, but with the way funding is right now that is probably not going to happen," he said.
There are 700 farms in Wayne and the Extension Service remains an important tool for the farmers who rely on its expertise, Johnson said.
"In eastern North Carolina, it is as important as it ever was," Johnson said. "It (agriculture) is the No. 1 industry in Wayne County. Obviously, the work that we do in field crops and livestock is supporting that No. 1 industry."
Johnson said he knew in junior high school that he wanted to be an Extension agent.
"We did not have that big a farm growing up," he said. "It was a small farm, at the biggest about 400 acres. I knew I wasn't going to be able to go back to the farm and this was an exciting opportunity that could keep me in agriculture."
He attended N.C. State University, majoring in agronomy and crop science. He was a junior when he met his wife, the former Jennifer Gray of the Patetown community, who was majoring in animal science. She now teaches poultry and livestock at Wayne Community College. They have two children, Bryan, 16, a student at the Wayne School of Engineering, and Sabrina, 12, a seventh-grader at Norwayne Middle School.
Johnson is an active member of Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church and is a member of Harmony Masonic Lodge in Pikeville. He also has served as a coach with the Neuse River Soccer Association.
"Between work, church and soccer, that is my life," he said. "Work takes a lot. We don't work 8 to 5. We work to get the job done. We work a lot at night with meetings."
After earning his bachelor's degree in 1992, Johnson's first job was with the Tyrell County Extension Office. He was there three years.
"There weren't that many agents down there so you had to learn to do everything," he recalled
In 1995, he moved to Caldwell County as an agricultural agent for livestock, field crops and pesticide education. He and his family moved to Wayne County in January 1998.
"Jennifer and I, we were really looking to come back to Wayne County," he said. "A job came open with the state Department of Agriculture. I was a regional agronomist, that was my title. I could move to Wayne County. I world work in Wayne County and I had four other counties."
On Jan. 1, 2005, he joined the Wayne County Extension Office.
"It was just a good fit for me to come back to Extension because that is the work that I love to do," he said.
Johnson praised the Wayne Extension office and its agents.
"We have an awesome 4-H program, probably have the best 4-H program in the state. We have numerous 4-H clubs. We have strong livestock 4-H groups. Our after-school program is probably the best in the state."
The local office also has a strong family and consumer science program, he said. It is through that program that Johnson hopes the office will become more involved with the Hispanic community.
"They have the same needs all of us do. When I think of family and consumer science I think of working with health and wellness, financial issues, improving the quality of life."
While Monday was first official day, Johnson said he has no immediate plans to move into Scott's old office.
"I have mixed emotions. I know that I am following in the footsteps of Howard and somebody who is considered one of the best, very involved in the community. I had mixed emotions. I was happy I was given the opportunity, but then again I was a little nervous. I know I have a lot to do. I have some big shoes to fill."