Burns named Extension Director, looks to ‘grow’ county’s agriculture

Newly-appointed County Extension Director Paige Burns stands among flowers she planted to be used as table decorations for a recent Agriculture Agent Conference.

ROCKINGHAM — Paige Burns has been named director of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension after serving in the interim for a total of about three-and-a-half years during two different transitional periods, most recently taking the role in September following the departure of former director Susan Kelly.

Burns officially took over on July 1 and has worked with the county extension for about 12 years. She said that now that she is officially director, she will no longer have to split her time between her responsibilities as horticulture agent and as director, which caused the horticulture side to suffer most. The addition of Anthony Growe as livestock agent, who will also be in charge of row crops and pesticides, will takes some of the weight off of Burns and the extension also plans to hire a new horticulture agent.

“It feels great (to be officially director). There’s a nice feeling of being familiar with the county — I’ve got, I think, great relationships with folks in the county government and we’ve got great staff at the office,” Burns said. “It feels really exciting to be walking into a situation where I feel so comfortable and I’m excited about the prospects of seeing what we can develop together.”

Burns said she was not made director sooner because of a rule that required extension directors to have a Master’s Degree, while Burns has two Bachelor’s Degrees from North Carolina State University, one in History and one in Horticulture. This rule was recently changed to allow 10 years of relevant experience plus a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant field to be the equivalent of a Master’s Degree, allowing Richmond County to hire Burns, she said.

As director, Burns said she will now be responsible for not only personnel and budget but creating a “vision” for the county.

“I see it as, ideally, a kind of nurturing relationship where you are helping your agents do their best work and also supporting an overall county vision that benefits the people of the community,” Burns said.

As for that vision, Burns wants to see her agents out in the field “working directly with farmers,” and inspiring new farmers.

“I really want to try to rebuild agriculture in the county. We had literally some of the best producers in the state,” she said. “We’ve had people retire, and we have people retiring as we speak, and it’s a huge loss for us from an economic standpoint and from a standpoint of folks being able to access fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown right in their own communities.

“Where are our new generations of farmers who are going to take their place?” Burns continued, standing in the AgInnovation Center’s demo farm. “That’s one of the things we hope to do (at the AgInnovation Center) is maybe inspire some folks to do that.”

The demo farm is a farm that the AgInnovation Center will use to teach farmers who are just starting out how to deal with common issues. In one portion they are growing cover crops which can improve the quality of their land, high value crops like blueberries and blackberries, and another section will be used for fruit trees in the future.

There’s also the high tunnel, which Burns was in the process of building with Davon Goodwin, manager of the center on Thursday. The high tunnel a greenhouse-esque structure with no heating or cooling mechanism other than the plastic covering which Burns said allows them to extend the season for some of their crops to mitigate the effects of unpredictable weather. For example, the high tunnel could give cool season crops just the right level of frost protection to allow it to grow and retain the quality needed to bring the product to market.

Burns said they will finish the high tunnel in about a month. Once finished, the AgInnovation Center will hold courses whether for groups, individuals, or organizations, Goodwin said. Follow the Sandhills AgInnovation Center’s or the Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s Facebook page for course dates, reach out to them at http://www.sandhillsag.com or Goodwin at [email protected] or call at 910-992-8176.

“We are literally going to be growing farmers from the ground up, we hope,” Burns said. “We hope someone sees this and says, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I have two acres, I can grow enough to take to the Farmer’s Market.’”

Newly-appointed County Extension Director Paige Burns stands among flowers she planted to be used as table decorations for a recent Agriculture Agent Conference.

Looks to grow county agriculture

Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]

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