CRAWFORD COUNTY - The University of Wisconsin Extension system is undergoing a major reorganization. Counties are going to be grouped in smaller local areas, rather than large districts, according to Ted Bay, retiring Grant County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent.
“Grant and Crawford counties both used to belong to a large district that essentially encompassed all the counties in southwest Wisconsin,” Bay said. “Now Crawford will be in a group with La Crosse, Monroe, Richland and Vernon, and Grant will be in a different group.”
Bay explained that each area will determine the Extension expertise that will be most beneficial to that county area group, with the goal being to hire agents that can specialize in the most needed areas of expertise and serve clientele across the county area in addition to the agriculture community of the county that hired that position.
The ability to specialize will be key to providing the best possible service and support to county communities. Counties will determine for themselves what their focus or priority will be for the ag extension position, and even if they want to have an extension agent.
“It used to be that a masters degree was required to be a UW-Extension agriculture agent,” Bay said. “Now, the job description says that a masters degree is preferred, but a bachelor’s degree is required.”
Bay said that there will likely be more sharing among counties, similar to the cooperative agreement that has existed between Grant and Lafayette counties for some time now.
Cover crop research
In recent years Bay has become very interested in the benefits of cover crops. He was convinced that the idea of keeping something green and actively growing before row crops are planted, and after they are harvested, would be of benefit to farmers and the environment.
“Cover crops can have a very dramatic benefit, greatly reducing soil erosion, and preserving and building soil, the most valuable asset a farm has,” Bay said. “I plan to continue working on this conservation effort, and to help increase the use of cover crops in our Driftless region.”
After retirement from UW-Extension on November 2, Bay will continue his work in cover crop research in Crawford County, working with the Wallace Center as a grazing specialist. He will work in Vernon, Sauk and Monroe counties as well, but his emphasis will be Crawford County.
Besides continuing to work on agricultural issues that he sees as “important to the future of agriculture,” Bay intends to focus on the needs of his rural property. Lots of things have been put on the back burner and Bay is ready to start on a long list that has been waiting for this day of retirement. That bucket list includes an interest in motorcycles, music and photography.
Who is Ted Bay?
Ted Bay is the son of Lawrence and Monica Bay, longtime Crawford County dairy farmers who were very active in the National Farmers Organization. Bay graduated from Wauzeka High School in 1968 and then went to UW-Richland for two years.
After spending three years in the army after earning his associates degree, Bay became very interested in farm policy. When he returned from the army, he went to UW-Platteville, majoring in agricultural economics, and then to UW-Madison, where he earned a masters degree in the same subject.
After graduation, Bay was dairy farming with his brother and parents. Ten years later, he remembered, the family was planning changes because their dairy operation wasn’t large enough to support three families. Bay began looking for a career off the farm.
In spring of 1991, a college friend who was an extension agent, and Don Daentl, then Crawford County Extension Agriculture Agent, both stopped at the farm. Both men suggested that he apply for the Grant County Crops & Farm Management Extension Agent position that was open.
“It fit my farming interests, I applied, and was fortunate enough to get the position,” Bay said. “I started my extension work on October 1, 1991, and have been there for 26 years.”
Bay reports that the biggest changes that he has seen over his 26 years working with the extension have been the cell phone; ethanol; GMO grains; long periods of flat grain prices; the rise in the price of land; and the rise in the cost of inputs.
“Even small operations are looking at major investments in farming operations,” Bay said. “And the newest development is the increase in pesticide resistance, particularly notable in weed resistance to herbicides.”
Bay reported that the cell phone has remarkably increased communication and access to information, in the cab of the tractor and on the go. Ethanol has increased the market value of corn, which he sees as critical at the current high cost of crop inputs. GMO grains have changed crop management to simpler strategies for pest control, but he believes that this looks to be short lived.
“We are in the third year of low grain prices,” Bay pointed out. “If this continues it will have implications for land values and rental rates, and the need to scrutinize input costs.”
Bay is very concerned that Australia has weeds that can no longer be controlled by herbicides, and sees this country heading in the same direction.
“In Australia, they are developing alternative control measures and we will learn from them,” Bay said.
Bay told of various agricultural innovations that have been proven to work in Australia, and are being experimented with at the university level in America.
One method adopted in Australia was to wind row the harvest debris, and then to burn it. But that strategy has been improved upon, Bay reported.
“I believe that in Illinois and Arkansas, the universities are testing a combine that has a ‘Harrington Seed Destructor’ unit built right into it,” Bay said. “This unit works during grain harvest to pick up the weed seeds and essentially pulverize them so they cannot emerge.”
Bay reports the device has shown between a 50 and 90 percent effectiveness in preventing the growth of weeds without use of herbicides. Originally in Australia, the device was a pull-behind implement, which could also work for farmers who aren’t ready to invest in a new combine.
“I expect to see this technology become standard on combines in the next few years,” Bay said.
“The greatest benefit to me and my work with clients was the research I conducted on corn response to nitrogen, and alfalfa response to sulfur,” Bay reported. “This allowed me to give the best possible advice to farmers who are trying to maximize return on inputs.”
Bay provided farm financial analysis to individual farmers on a regular basis, and wishes he could have conducted a broader program, reaching more farmers.
“My recent work on crop enterprise budgets and machinery cost analysis was both interesting and very helpful to landowners and farmers who utilized that information as well,” Bay said. “It has been very gratifying to be able to bring in university extension specialists when farmers had questions or challenges that required a particular expertise to determine the best course of action.”
Bay reported that requests for this service had occurred following severe winter kill in alfalfa; extended drought, management of resistant crop pests; assisting with farm succession; and analyzing major farm changes such as bringing in new family members.
Advice to future agents
Bay reported that he sees that important topics to address for future extension agents will be farm financial performance, conservation, and the rapid rise in herbicide resistance.
He thinks that a very important role will be that of providing unbiased information needed for farm production management.
“There are many sources of information available to a farmer, and it is important that farmers have a source of information that is not selling the product or practice that they are being advised on,” Bay said.