Farm Horizons, September 1998

Extension agent prefers fields to offices

By MAGGIE SCHUETTE-VOSS

Back in 1981, Joe Neubauer took a job as McLeod County Extension Agent. One of his first stops was the rectory at Holy Trinity Church to see Father Jack Brunner.

"Father Jack told me as much about the county as he knew," Neubauer said. The priest was someone he could go to, as Father Jack was principal of the Catholic high school Neubauer attended in Bird Island.

Neubauer grew up on a farm outside of Bird Island, where his family raised soybeans, corn, beef, and sugar beets.

"My grandfather started raising sugar beets during World War I," he said.

After graduation, he attended the University of Minnesota, with the idea of becoming a veterinarian.

"I decided that wasn't my calling. I wanted to be involved in agriculture and education," he said.

Neubauer left the veterinary medicine to his brother, Gary, and instead received his bachelor of science degree in agricultural education.

He taught high school agriculture for awhile, but decided he would rather be in a field than in a classroom. "I didn't like being in one place," Neubauer said.

In 1978, Neubauer got a call from the University of Minnesota, which was looking for people for county extension positions.

He first worked in Stearns County and found the job to be what he wanted, still in education but not tied to an office.

He stayed with Stearns County for three years, then was hired as associate county agent for McLeod County in 1981.

"In the time I've been here, I've been associate county agent, extension agent, and extension educator," Neubauer said. The titles have changed, but the job has not.

"I take research of the University of Minnesota and other colleges to help farm and other families better their lives," he said. "A day might be answering 20 to 30 questions from the home gardener to, right now, I'm designing plans for flat grain storage.

"I also try and explain the government programs available to farmers. Technically, I'm not a part of that, but I will help interpret them and see how they will fit a farmer's situation," Neubauer said.

"I like people and I like working with them. I'm not a regulatory person, so people can talk honestly with me," he said.

One favorite part of Neubauer's job is research and diagnosis: going to the farms and finding what may be a problem in a field, etc. But, he does not see himself as the person with all the answers, "I can help people find options, but they must make the final decision . . . I've always had the philosophy that when I go to a farm I'm going to learn something."

Bernie O'Rourke

O'Rourke is the newest extension educator in McLeod County and her area is 4-H.

She grew up on a farm near Easton, Minn., a small town between Blue Earth and Albert Lea. It is a diverse farm with corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sheep, hogs, and beef.

A graduate of South Dakota State University, O'Rourke received her masters degree in animal science in 1997 from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Her position with McLeod County is her first.

"I was looking on the Internet for jobs at the beginning of fall because I knew I would be graduating in December," she said.

"I was involved in 4-H for over 10 years and the 4-H extension agents were my role models. I got on the Internet and found McLeod County was looking for an extension educator for 4-H youth development," O'Rourke said.

Since she started with McLeod County, O'Rourke has done many things with 4-H and got reacquainted with people in the extension service. She also made it through her first county and state fair.

"Bernie is great to have in the office," Neubauer said. "She understands 4-H and working with youth, and her people skills are great."

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