THOMASVILLE — There is a new extension agriculture agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Grady County Office.

Stuart McKinney, 23, of Cordele, was awarded the position Tuesday when the Grady County Board of Commissioners approved his hiring.

“There’s excitement about this new opportunity/challenge and there is a little bit of nerves,” said McKinney in a phone interview Friday. “I’m doing all I can to be prepared and I feel confident that I’ll be able to do a good job for the people of Grady County.”

Deron Rehberg, county extension coordinator/4-H agent, said Friday that he has been by himself since Oct. 1, 2006, when then coordinator Tim Flanders vacated the position to pursue other career opportunities.

“Our Southwest District Extension Office put out a nationwide search and, once it went out, folks had 30 days to apply,” he said. “Once applications were in, the district director sorted it down to three or four possibles and they were interviewed by the district director, the ag specialist and myself. Then, it was up to the county commissioners for the final approval.”

Rehberg said the new extension hire should receive a $35,000 a year salary. The county funds a portion (a minimum of $12,000 and approximately $15,000 right now), but the majority comes out of the University of Georgia extension budget.

McKinney, a recent University of Georgia Tifton Campus graduate who holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture (he majored in agri science and environmental systems), said his interest in agriculture and extension work stems from growing up in Cordele, an area known for its agricultural activity.

“Growing up around agriculture and in an ag community really helps you to realize just how important agriculture is to Georgia and to our economy here,” said McKinney. “I just really felt a need to — with the way things are in the farming community now, there are so many pressures that it’s harder for smaller farmers to make it — help out and be a support for those smaller farmers.”

McKinney’s responsibilities include offering educational programming to the community related to agriculture and natural resources and answering questions producers have about their crops.

He plans to move to Grady County in May and starts his new job June 1.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said McKinney.

Rehberg said he felt McKinney will be a positive addition to the Grady County office.

“He is a prodigy of extension,” he said. “His mother has been the county extension agent in Crisp County for 19 years and she is now also the county extension coordinator there, so he’s come up through extension. Being from an extension family means he knows the job ethic and what is required of an agent. He’s also spent time with other ag agents working on things like test plots and global positioning technology. We’re looking forward to having him on board. He’s got a lot to learn — he knows that and the farmers know that — but he’s willing to learn and the farmers are willing to help him learn and grow as an ag agent.”

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