Mark Evans worked for Purdue University's Agronomy Department for 11 years. There, he dealt with soil and water plant sciences, working a lot with the Soil and Water Conservation District in 15 to 20 counties. During that time, his job was housed in Greencastle in the USDA building.
On Nov. 1, he took on a new position -- Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator for Owen and Clay counties. Since that time he has done quite a bit of "sorting and sifting through things" and now he is trying to do more public outreach. He has been writing a weekly column for The Brazil Times Agriculture page on Tuesdays and he is planning some local events dealing with agriculture.
After growing up in Liberty, Ind., Evans furthered his education at Purdue University, Indiana's "land grant institution". There, he earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture education, with an endorsement in biology. This degree qualifies him to teach agri-biology. He also completed his master's in agronomy.
His background, therefore, is more in soils than in animals, but this job opens him up to answering questions in a wide range of agriculture-related areas. The extension office not only fields questions from farmers, but also from homeowners who call and ask about their yards or about how to rid their home of insects. The Family and Consumer Sciences portion of the office now offers advice on foods and nutrition, rather than only home decorating and clothing, as well.
"I definitely don't claim to know everything," Evans admits, but he adds that he probably can contact someone who does know the answers to the public's inquiries.
He is also the County Extension Director in Owen County, a position held by Melanie Brown in Clay County. He generally spends two days of the week in Clay and three in Owen. However, he also attends meetings in both counties in the evenings or on different days as needed.
Evans had a hand in putting together the first Indiana Beef Cattle Association Beef Forum in Clay County, which took place Feb. 9 at the Clay County Fairgrounds. The dinner was attended by 71 people from the nine counties that make up Region 5 of the IBCA. He said that a "high level of partnering" made that come together, and overall it was a "very positive thing."
In addition, he is working with the newly-formed Clay County Beef Cattle Association to prepare for a blood drive in July as a community service. They are conspiring with the Indiana Blood Center. The Parke County REMC is set to sponsor free ribeyes and drinks for all those who give blood.
The SWCD is helping Evans get ready for an outdoor private applicator event. Farmers that use restricted-use herbicide will be able to acquire three continuing education credits. These are usually held indoors.
Last year, he collaberated with the SWCD in a field day. He says there have not been a lot of those kinds of things in Indiana and he feels events like this provide a good opportunity for local producers to learn from each other.
Evans hopes to get more information to the public through similar educational programs to fulfill his own need "to be adding or providing something. I want to feel like I'm making a contribution." With such a wealth of resources in this day and age, Evans says he feels that the general public is "data rich and information poor," and the extension office's role is to help better define certain things.
One of Evans's major goals is to encourage local farmers to focus on no-till farming, especially those who grow corn. He thinks the process could help a lot in Clay County, where high no-till numbers are pretty low compared to the rest of the state.
He acknowledges there is greater risk involved in not tilling the soil, but when done successfully, it can really pay off economically. Using this system, farmers can just spray and direct seed and they do not have to plow it several times. The water runoff is cleaner, it improves soil quality and crops produce better over time.
Another big improvement Evans aspires to make deals with livestock. With the help of area veterinarians, he is confident they "can make some strides there," and at least provide people with contact numbers in case of an emergency.
He says there are a number of animal health issues for which Clay County needs to be better prepared. People seem to think that in an emergency, everyone could take their animals to the fairgrounds. However, Evans says most cattle are not broken for tying up. Also if there was an outbreak of some disease, the fairgrounds would not necessarily be the best place to bring the animals.