01/03/12 — Search restarts for farm agent

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Search restarts for farm agent

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 3, 2012 2:01 PM

The search for a new agricultural agent to work with farmers in Wayne County's $120 million annual field crop business has been extended, officials said, meaning it could at least March before the position is filled.

The job became vacant when field crop agent Kevin Johnson was promoted to director of the Wayne County office of the state Agricultural Extension Service.

Johnson carried both loads this past year, but officials decided a new crop agent should be hired to ease the load and to allow Johnson to concentrate on leading the office, which includes livestock, horticulture and 4-H programs.

Field crops have been a staple of Wayne County's economy for well over a century. Wayne is a leading county in North Carolina in the production of tobacco, cotton, soybeans, corn, sweet potatoes and wheat. It is the third-largest tobacco-producing county in the United States.

Three candidates for the job were interviewed in November by a committee that included Extension Service officials, officials from North Carolina State University and the county. But the search is continuing, Johnson said last week, and the hiring panel decided to re-advertise for the job.

There were some concerns that the original advertising for the opening had not been long enough, he said.

"We just need to re-advertise and try to get the word out," Johnson said. "People might not have known that the position was open. We want to expand the search to give people time to submit their information and to find the right fit."

Extension agents are technically members of the faculty of North Carolina State University. A bachelor's degree in agronomy or related area of science is required to hold the job and a related master's degree is preferred. Applicants must have a valid driver's license and reliable personal transportation must be maintained.

Johnson said he expects that the job will be advertised until the end of January.

"Realistically, it may be March 1 would be the quickest we could get someone in place," he said. "We don't start planting corn until the middle or end of March so we would still be ahead of most crop production.

"I want to keep some (field) responsibilities so that I can be out with the farmers and keep those relationships. I would like to keep tobacco, but if not that, cotton. I enjoy all of the crops."

It is a position that Johnson and county commissioners are anxious to fill.

The position is considered so vital to the county's total $763 million agriculture and agri-business industry that county commissioners even discussed paying for the position with county tax dollars when the state -- which was undergoing cuts in almost every department -- wavered on whether to fill it.

However, commissioners decided not to do so because of concerns such action would set a dangerous precedent that the state would seize on to pass along even more costs to the county.