After 35 years, Gary Tilghman is stepping down as Barren County’s agriculture agent.
Tilghman spent time Tuesday greeting well-wishers at a reception in his honor at the Barren County Cooperative Extension office.
Tilghman began his career as an agriculture agent in Monroe County in January 1979. After Fay Atherton retired as Barren County’s ag agent, Tilghman transferred to Barren County in October 1985.
“It’s time to do something different,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. There’s not been anything that I haven’t enjoyed. This is a great county. Monroe County was a great county to work in. I’ve been fortunate.”
Tilghman came to southcentral Kentucky from Versailles soon after graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in agriculture.
“I grew up with extension,” Tilghman said. “My family was a big extension supporter and I was really involved in 4-H and FFA. Our whole family, like a lot of families here, participated in extension programs.”
So, when he was offered the agriculture agent’s job in Monroe County, he said it was “a no-brainer” to choose to work in extension.
As agriculture extension agent, Tilghman’s job was to take information regarding new developments in agriculture and pass it along to producers.
Jim Landis, who has known Tilghman for 20 years, worked with him to gain knowledge about rotational grazing.
“He is going to be hard to replace,” Landis said. “I’m sure anyone you ask you will find the same answer. He’s brought a lot of programs to this area. He was very good at that.”
Neil Allen has known Tilghman since he first arrived in Barren County.
“Gary has done a great job as a county agent here in Barren County. We certainly hate to see him retire, but at the same time we wish him well,” Allen said. “He has initiated some programs here in Barren County to educate beef producers on quality assurance and other beef issues, as well as dairy. He has been a big help to farmers here in Barren County.”
During his career, Tilghman has witnessed a lot of changes in the ag industry.
At one time, nearly every farm had a tobacco patch, which meant Tilghman spent a lot of time helping farmers grow the best burley crop possible. After the tobacco settlement, the number of burley tobacco producers dwindled, leaving only a few to raise the crop.
“That’s probably the biggest thing,” Tilghman said of the changes.
But not only did the number of burley tobacco producers change, so did the processing. Farmers used to hand-tie the tobacco, but now tobacco leaves are put into 100-pound or larger balers.
“It was an attempt to reduce the biggest labor expense for a tobacco crop, and at that time it was stripping,” Tilghman said. “You could pull [tobacco leaves] off and put [them] into a bale as compared to all the stuff we did when hand-tying it.”
One of Tilghman’s first college projects was to make a tobacco baling box using most of a plywood sheet. It was a lesson he later taught producers.
“I remember standing on the front porch of the Monroe County Extension Office and doing a demonstration to farmers on how to build one of those things,” he said.
Tilghman has seen burley tobacco producers enhance other crops, such as forages, to offset the loss in income they once received from burley tobacco.
“Forage use has gone up now because many farmers are using rotational grazing,” he said. The amount of acreage used to raise a cow and a calf has been cut in half with that practice.
Tilghman has also witnessed big changes in cattle reproduction. Farmers are now artificially inseminating their own cattle, which they do to try to improve beef production, he said.
Attempting to solve people’s problems is what Tilghman said he liked best about his job. He and the other extension agents, as well as specialists on staff at the University of Kentucky, work as a team to meet the public’s needs.
“If you’ve got issues or you’ve got technology you don’t understand, at the end of the day, if we can help you solve that issue, that’s gratifying,” he said.
Tilghman will be greatly missed by his co-workers.
“We are going to miss Gary a lot because of all of his knowledge, and also the community involvement he has been in. He’s added a lot to our extension family, because we are like a family here,” said Paula Tarry, extension agent for 4-H and Youth Development. “We are not only coworkers, but we are also friends. It’s going to be a different change. We wish him all the best. We know he is going to have a wonderful time in retirement.”
Tilghman also played major roles during his career in helping get the Barren County Agriculture and the Monroe County Watermelon festivals off the ground.
Meanwhile, Tilghman has always been a beef cattle producer and said he intends to continue raising cattle after retiring.
“It’s all about farming now for me,” he said, which he plans to do in addition to playing with his grandchildren and doing some light consulting work for area producers.
A replacement for Tilghman has not yet been named, but Tarry said the search will begin soon.
The University of Kentucky Extension Council will begin taking applications when the position is announced.
The local extension council and district board will provide input as to what characteristics they would like the next agriculture agent to have, Tarry said.
Until a new agriculture agent is hired, producers can continue to direct their questions to the local extension office.
“If for some reason, we do not know the answer we can send it to one of the specialists, or we can contact another ag agent in another county,” Tarry said.
To contact the local extension office, call 270-651-3818.
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