Extension agent at home in barnyard

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When it came time to finesse a 1,330-pound steer onto a cow scale, Jessica Anderson didn’t hesitate to push.

Giving a big animal a two-handed shove in the rump comes with the territory for Anderson, who is the new livestock agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County.

As a youngster growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, Anderson raised Hertford cattle and participated in 4-H competitions.

Anderson didn’t grow up on a farm. Both parents had full-time jobs off the farm.

Raising cows was just a side gig, just enough for Anderson to have some 4-H projects.

“It was never a money-making endeavor,” Anderson said. “I was lucky enough to have family friends that were involved in that, so I became involved in 4-H through our family friends.”

After the family moved to North Carolina, Anderson went to N.C. State University and got a degree in animal science and stayed for her master’s degree in agriculture and education.

She started her career in Anson County, where she was the livestock and row crops agent for the last 6 ½ years.

Anderson’s primary duties in Wilson are going to be livestock, but she will also cover peanuts and cotton for the county’s row crop producers.

“It’s definitely going to be different from by job in Anson County, but that’s exactly what makes me excited about it,” Anderson said. “Anson County is a very small county. It’s not very populated, and there I had lots of responsibilities where I was the only ag agent in the office. And so to come here where there are four ag agents is very different. I was kind of the go-to person for anything agriculture there, and here it’s like I have support in the office.”

Anderson had a small livestock show in Anson County, and she looks forward to working with the much larger Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale, which will be in late March.

“The support that is here for the livestock show and sale here is something to be commended because it is such a large part of the community and has such a large part of the community pitching in to help,” Anderson said.

Organizing the show and helping the young participants will be a major part of her job in Wilson.

“A big part of the livestock is the show and sale and helping kids with their 4-H livestock projects,” Anderson said. “I grew up with a very large show and sale. I grew up showing steers, and that is something that really drew me to this position, being able to work with such a large 4-H livestock program.”

“I like working with the kids, seeing them grow year after year, in their confidence, in what they do and what they learn about their projects and also them working with each other,” Anderson said. “That is a really big part of it, the friendships that they form, and I know from experience, growing up that those are some friendships that you will carry throughout you life.”

Anderson said getting kids interested in farming is a key.

“I know that sounds odd because most of these are farmers’ kids, but there are a lot of farmers’ kids who are not interested in agriculture at all,” Anderson said. “So making sure that they start at a young age and keep interested in some form of agriculture I think is essential to that.”

The show and sale also has great agribusiness support, which demonstrates for the youngsters the many different opportunities in agriculture.

“I think that even if they are not coming directly back to the farm, a lot of these kids are still going to end up in agriculture,” Anderson said.

When the 4-Hers do well in the show, it makes the adults proud of the work and effort they put into supporting their children.

“You’re not in it for a moneymaking endeavor,” Anderson said. “You are in it for the sake of your children. When they actually learn something from it and you realize that they have actually absorbed some of the stuff that you have been spouting at them for a couple of years, it is a really proud moment when those kids can actually get to the point where they are confident enough in their abilities and their projects and they can start talking about them and pretty eloquently.”

Anderson said there are going to be a few changes with the show and sale, but nothing big for this year.

“We are going take it slow right now,” Anderson said. “We’re going to get my first show under my belt and then go from there.”

Participation in the event is already up this year.

“I look forward to increasing participation a little bit more and obviously making it a good sale for these kids and making sure that they get that scholarship money that they need for their futures,” Anderson said.

The Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale, which is organized by the North Caroline Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, is slated for March 28-30.