Tips & help Back to home page

Southern Gardening's Guide to the

Cooperative Extension Service

The national Extension Service system
The local Extension Office
The local Extension Agent
The Master Gardener program
Contacting your Extension Office
Extension on the Internet

Help! You have ugly brown spots on your tomatoes, the leaves just fell off your azaleas, and the dead spot in your lawn is spreading! Help!
Well, you might ask your neighbor for advice or the weekend assistant at the garden center might have a clue.
But if you want accurate information from someone with more knowledge and more experience, call a Cooperative Extension Agent. It's their job to answer all your horticultural and agricultural questions. Their office is a gold mine of useful, easy to understand information on most every subject involving the plant kingdom. Some agents even make house calls.

The national Extension Service system

National Agricultural Library
Agriculture Network Information Center

The National Agronomy Society
Soil and Water Conservation Society 
Soil Science Society of America  

National Plant Data Center http://plants.usa. gov/
National Plants
NRCS Home Page  
NRCS Water & Climate Center  

Extension agents are part of a nation-wide system — the Cooperative Extension Service (CES). CES is an information network linking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, land-grant universities, county governments, and individual extension agents.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act founded the CES and its principal mission was to sustain and expand U.S. agriculture. As our country has become more urban, CES began reaching out to town and city dwellers.
Today's extension agents help anyone who has questions on a wide range of subjects, including consumer affairs, community development, food and water quality, home and family, and, of course, growing plants.
CES is funded by taxes — federal, state, and local. For this reason, most of its services are free or require only a modest fee. Advice is always free, even if it involves consultation from scientists and experts at the university. Most CES publications are free and CES provides programs for homeowners' associations, garden clubs, schools, and environmental groups — usually at no cost.

The local Extension Office

In Florida, the Cooperative Extension Service is administered by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Florida. Most CES offices are staffed by several agents, support personnel, and volunteer assistants. Generally, there is a CES office in each county.
For gardeners, the range of CES services is broad. You can call or visit the office and get individual attention for questions or problems. They will advise you on how to get your soil tested by the nearest state laboratory. This test is very important to keep your plants happy and productive. It costs about $3 for a simple test and $7 for a more complete test.
Most CES offices conduct courses and workshops. The office also offers information sheets, pamphlets, and books — written by horticulturists and researchers on almost any garden topic you can think of. CES now has a website that will allow you to browse or download most of their printed information.
For the convenience of local residents, here are maps you can view or print, showing the location of

The Extension Agent

CES agents are university-trained professionals — dedicated to sharing scientific information on every aspect of agriculture and horticulture. Although they have a field of specialty, they all receive in-depth training in many subjects to prepare them for a diverse clientele. When a question is over their head, they can tap resources of the state university system and other CES offices across the nation.
In rural areas, CES may focus on the needs of farmers, their families, and their communities. In more metropolitan areas, CES also responds to small gardeners, city planners, school personnel, transportation engineers, park superintendents, and others with horticultural questions.
Funding can affect the availability and depth of CES on a county-by-county basis. Gardeners tend to be less vocal than farmers. When government at any level makes cuts in programs, CES in general (and horticulture especially!) tends to feel the pinch first and hardest.

The Master Gardener program

In response to growing numbers of gardening inquiries from homeowners, a unique organization of auxiliary experts, the Master Gardeners, has joined forces with cooperative extension. Master Gardeners are volunteers who must pass intensive short courses in horticulture. In return for their certification, they provide 50 hours of horticulture-related service to their community.
This Master Gardener network now has over 40,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. You can put yourself on the other side of the CES counter if you like gardening, like helping people, and are willing to take the intensive training. Contact your CES for details.

Contacting your Extension Office

Your CES is a resource just waiting to be tapped. Call or stop by. The agent will know what's best to do about those tomato spots, the curled-up leaves, the dead lawn, or most any subject from the plant kingdom that you need help with.
Your county CES office is listed in the local government section of your phone book — under the name of your county.

Extension on the Internet

Florida Cooperative Extension Service home page

Alphabetical List of Cooperative Extension County Offices with links to their web pages (where available) and contact information
Back to top of page

Questions or comments about anything on this page?
Then don't beat around the bush —
leaf us a message.

Copyright 1998 by Southern Gardening