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Stories from the valley

On Becoming a Farm Advisor

Contributed by Dan Macon

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). After two internships during my college years, I’d been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I’d been promoted to assistant vice president – pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn’t grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn’t right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) – I’d been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office – Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake – suggested that I consider getting a master’s degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the idea stuck – and I eventually enrolled in an online graduate program offered through Colorado State University (CSU).

On July 1, I became the livestock and natural resources advisor for Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba Counties. Unlike many freshly minted farm advisors, I come to this position mid-career. Looking back at the jobs I’ve held since graduating from UC Davis 27 years ago, I’ve realized that only one – that of raising sheep – ever felt like something I could do for the rest of my life. Until now. I have finally recognized that the parts of my earlier jobs that I most enjoyed involved the things I’ll be doing on a daily basis as a farm advisor – teaching and doing research. Along with raising sheep, I feel as though I’ve finally figured out what I’m supposed to do in life!

I suppose that many folks outside of agriculture – and even some who farm or ranch – have never heard of cooperative extension. As far back as the early 1800s, agricultural clubs and societies began to extend practical knowledge to farmers and ranchers. In 1914, the Smith Lever Act formalized extension nationally by establishing a connection between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land grant universities in each state that were conducting agricultural research.

From the outset in California, the “cooperative” part of this arrangement involved collaboration between the University of California and county governments. Each county with a UCCE office provides funding and administrative support for the office. Initially, the university also required formal support from a local group of farmers and ranchers (called a “farm bureau”). These grassroots groups eventually evolved into the California Farm Bureau Federation that we know today. The American model of cooperative extension – which focuses on applied research and extending knowledge to people on the ground – is the envy of the rest of the world.

I have enormous shoes to fill – Roger Ingram and Glenn Nader, who proceeded me in these four counties, were incredibly productive and successful advisors. As I embark on this new chapter, I’m humbled by the people who have gone out of their way to help me get here – friends, colleagues, mentors, and (most importantly) family. I’m tremendously excited to get to do work I love in a community I love.

For more information about cooperative extension, go to the following websites: