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K-State Research and Extension evolves to meet Kansans' current, future needs

By Pat Melgares


The times, they still are a-changing.

This past summer, a group of city kids found themselves singing songs around a campfire. They were part of a 4-H youth program that brings inner-city youth to the Rock Springs campground near Junction City for four days of canoeing, horseback riding, hiking and, those evening campfires.

Said one 12-year-old: "This has been another home for me. All the counselors have been friends like I have never had."

For organizations like K-State Research and Extension -- which administers the state's 4-H program -- change is a constant.

Short for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, K-State Research and Extension employs approximately 300 research scientists, 180 faculty specialists and program leaders, 270 county and area specialists and 400 support staff. Personnel are located at the main campus, in 105 county offices, and several research centers and area offices around the state.

Much of its transformation during the past 135 years -- K-State began statewide extension work in 1868 -- has been driven by citizens in small and large Kansas communities.

By mandate, that's the way it's supposed to be. As one of the nation's original land-grant institutions, Kansas State University is required to provide teaching and education to the people of Kansas. In today's world, that means conducting the necessary research to understand new problems and letting people know how new information can help improve the way they live.

For example:

* Early in 2003, K-State researchers released Overley, a red wheat that will help farmers in eastern and central Kansas improve their yields. Overley was developed to resist such wheat diseases as leaf rust, soil-borne mosaic and spindle streak spot. K-State Research and Extension has found that for each dollar invested in development of wheat varieties, nearly $12 was earned by Kansas wheat producers. In the photo below, Joe Martin, a wheat breeder at the Western Kansas Agricultural Research Center in Hays, checks on white wheat varieties he's developing.white wheat

* More than 686,000 Kansans suffer from symptoms of arthritis. In cooperation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, K-State Research and Extension is distributing information and promoting awareness, education and self-help programs across the state.

* K-State is the headquarters for the Great Plains Diagnostic Network, which is designed to protect America's food and fiber industry from a terrorist -- or even an unintentional -- attack on farm crops. A K-State Research and Extension systems engineer designed the plant diagnostics system, which is being adopted by the National Plant Diagnostics Network, a program supported by the United States Office of Homeland Security.

* The K-State Research and Extension Family Nutrition Program teaches low-income persons -- from youth to older adults -- how to choose and prepare nutritious meals on a limited budget, how to handle food safely and how to balance healthy eating practices with physical activity. The program works with other programs, such as Head Start, WIC -- Women, Infants, Children, shelters and more in 84 Kansas counties. A similar, in-home nutrition program is providing nutrition education and home-delivered meals to older adults.

The list goes on and on. In addition to its historic strength in helping Kansas' farmers, K-State Research and Extension

* helps parents raise healthy and productive children;
* helps residents make better decisions on managing their money;
* helps protect and nurture the environment, including the quality of drinking water;
* provides information on everything from rabid skunks in the backyard and fertilizing the home lawn to community economic development and troubled youth in our cities; and
* helps Kansans simply enjoy life more.

If Kansans need information, K-State Research and Extension aims to provide it.

Steven Graham, the assistant to the director of K-State Research and Extension, notes that the organization is citizen-driven. Every county in Kansas has formed local advisory boards, which assist in hiring local extension agents, planning local programs and determining the issues that are most important to 'real' people.

In one area, it may be food safety awareness; in another, perhaps it is support for farmer's markets. Or, it's a logical reason for why city kids are tuning their vocal chords around a back-country campfire.

For more information on K-State Research and Extension's local programs, visit the local extension office or the Web site at http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/

A sampling of K-State Research and Extension programs

K-State Research and Extension provides research-based information that helps Kansans in their everyday lives. Here's a sample of programs that are available in Kansas. More information is available through K-State Research and Extension's Web site at http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/

Homeland Security: Protecting agriculture in Kansas and the Great Plains is vital to food security in the United States. The region's farmers grow 95 percent of the nation's sunflower acres; 84 percent of the sorghum; 73 percent of the wheat; 55 percent of the dry beans; 42 percent of the cotton; and 35 percent of the sugar beets.

K-State Research and Extension has developed a plant diagnostics system that will monitor the outbreak of disease in farm or horticultural crops anywhere in the United States. K-State is the headquarters for the Great Plains Diagnostic Network, and is providing technical and communications support for the National Plant Diagnostic Network and its other four regional headquarters at Michigan State, Cornell, the University of Florida and the University of California-Davis.

Read more about the Great Plains Diagnostic Network at http://www.gpdn.org/

Money Management: Kansas Extension offices are banding together to offer the program, "Kansas Saves: Financial Management for Life." The program was launched in Kansas in October 2003, and training is available to any Kansas resident. Participants may attend seminars and will receive a workbook, the "Personal Financial Toolkit," that will provide guidance on how to reduce and stay out of debt, and how to build savings.

"Extension's statewide network makes it a great fit for the new financial education effort,” said Angela Cichocki, a former county Extension agent who now works for the Kansas Securities Commission.

Contact your local K-State Research and Extension office for more information about Kansas Saves: Financial Management for Life.

Afterschool programs: About 200 grade school students in Topeka participated in the 4-H Afterschool program last year. In particular, the program reaches out to children who lack stability in their lives; it's estimated that 40 percent of the students in that part of Topeka move before the end of the school year.

"It's a place they can go other than school, even if it's just once a week, where with the help of a caring adult, they can participate in something positive and learn by doing," said Shawnee County 4-H agent Leroy Russell.

In addition to Topeka, other Kansas communities with 4-H Afterschool programs include Council Grove, Kansas City, Leavenworth, Atchison, Wichita and Hoxie. Currently, 4.2 million young people participate in 4-H Afterschool programs in more than 260,000 sites nationwide.

Help for farmers: When farmers needed help treading through the various provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill, K-State Research and Extension was there to help. The university's AgManager Web site is a farmer's best friend for finding information on commodity programs in the newest farm bill.

The AgManager site, produced by K-State Research and Extension, also has information on crops and livestock marketing, farm management, human resources, income tax and legal issues and other topics of interest to agribusinesses. It provides information, analysis and decision-making tools for agricultural producers, agribusinesses and others.

Walk Kansas: Thousands of Kansans are becoming more health-conscious thanks to a program that encourages them to join teams and walk across the state ... sort of.

They're joining the eight-week Walk Kansas program in which teams of six people log their daily miles of exercise, and report them to a team captain who adds them all up. If they total 423 miles or more -- the distance across Kansas -- they have effectively walked across the state.

More than 12,000 Kansans participated in Walk Kansas in 2003. K-State Research and Extension agents conducted the program in 80 of 105 counties. The program is in its third year.

4-H expands to cities, minorities: In 2003, nearly 168,000 youth were involved in 4-H programs in Kansas. That represents about one in five kids between the ages of 5 and 18, according to data from the state 4-H office at Kansas State University.

In addition, there were 6,181 adults and 4,234 youth who volunteered their time for 4-H programs in 2003. Approximately 48 percent of 4-Hers are from cities of 10,000 residents or more, including 8 percent from suburbs and 21 percent from metropolitan areas. Forty-nine percent of Kansas 4-Hers are male, and 51 percent are female.

Learn more about Kansas 4-H at http://www.kansas4h.org/


Winter 2003