‘Farmers still have to plant’: New Iron County ‘ag agent’ steps into familiar role during unfamiliar times

Randall Violett, Iron County's new USU Extension agriculture agent, talks about his new position during an interview in his office, Cedar City, Utah, July 30, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News, Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Iron County’s newly hired agriculture agent says he hopes his new position will enable him to further share his enthusiasm for agriculture with farmers, ranchers and other members of the community. And while some things about agriculture haven’t changed in hundreds of years, other aspects of the position – especially recently – have provided new challenges.

Randall Violett was hired in June to be the new agricultural and natural resources faculty for Utah State University Extension’s office in Iron County, a position that is more commonly referred to simply as the county “ag agent.”

Violett succeeds Chad Reid, who held the position for many years before he died in February.

Originally from Wyoming, Violett taught range and natural resource management classes at Southern Utah University for the past seven years. 

Violett told Cedar City News he’s particularly interested in irrigation and water management and in finding ways to help farmers and ranchers be profitable.

“Another part of this position that really was intriguing to me was to get to work with the producers and try to have an impact with them,” he said, adding that he’d previously done such work and research for the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Center.

“I really enjoyed that part of that job … to work with producers and how you can do research and work to make producers more successful or sustainable,” he said. “That’s something that I really want to try to do here.”

Violett said he’s also working on some ideas and projects related to grass seed production, “to try to get some diversity in some of our cropping systems.”

“I’ve got some background with some different tillage systems as well,” he said. “And we’re doing some really neat things with some irrigation and water delivery systems already.”

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of agriculture in society, Violett said.

“The agricultural community hasn’t missed a beat,” he said. “I mean, farmers still have to plant their crops and they still have to harvest their crops and they still take care of their livestock. Agriculture lends itself to social distancing. It comes with the territory.”

Randall Violett, Iron County’s new USU Extension agriculture agent, talks about his new position during an interview in his office, Cedar City, Utah, July 30, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News, Cedar City News

Violett called agriculture a “very stable economy compared to tourism or some of the other economies that we have.”

However, he said, the pandemic has led to fundamental changes in the way educational instruction is delivered, which is another aspect of his position.

“We’ve just finished a virtual field tour across the state on a lot of these agronomic things: irrigation, different herbicide applications, weed control, that kind of stuff,” he said. “It was very well-attended. We got a really good response from that.”

Delivering educational content via virtual workshops and livestreamed group meetings allows presenters to reach a much larger audience.

“I think we’re going to see a shift in some of our programming after all this,” he said. “I mean, there’s still a lot of people who like to come to our meetings and learn from our workshops and those kinds of things, but we’re getting a lot of people that are accustomed (to being online). They’ll spend three or four hours in an evening watching a program on something that is of interest to them.”

Violett said the agriculture sector has picked up on that.

“We’re getting hundreds of people in these meetings and workshops now,” he said, instead of the 40 or 50 participants that might typically attend an in-person event.

“Ideally, it’ll probably end up being a blend, where you can have live in-person instruction but also be able to stream it for those that can’t be there, and reach a much larger audience that way. … The extension (office’s) impact is going to be greater when we can reach more producers and more people involved, and so that just validates our existence. I’m looking forward to doing that.”

Next up for Violett will be the upcoming Iron County Fair in Parowan Sept. 3-7, followed by the Southwest Livestock Show in Cedar City from Sept. 9-12.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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