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Cobb takes reins as new livestock, dairy agent

MOUNT ULLA — There’s a new cowboy in town.

Thomas Cobb is taking the reins as the county’s livestock, dairy and field crops agent — and he’s bringing some rural roots with him.

“It’s exciting,” Cobb said of the new position. “I’ve always been around animals and involved with animals. I knew that I wanted to do something that I knew made a difference.”

Cobb grew up in Franklinton, N.C. He later got an associate’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from State University of New York at Cobleskill.

The position is one of several agents funded by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Cobb said he’s spent his first month on the job meeting growers and producers all over the county.

His first goal: finding out what farmers need.

“We’re really still trying to establish the main needs. A constant need is keeping youth involved,” Cobb said. “We have an issue in this country, not only the state but the country as a whole, a lot of kids don’t know where their food comes from. They think it’s Aisle 2 at the grocery store.”

Cobb credited a high school teacher with steering him to agriculture.

My high school ag teacher really got me interested,” he said. “I had been around farming when I was young but I didn’t know if that was a career path I wanted to be in.”

The 24-year-old said he’s been traveling out to farms to meet and answer questions.

One of those farmers, Ryan Sloop, of Sloop Dairy on N.C. 150 in Mount Ulla, was a former classmate of Cobb’s in Raleigh.

Sloop, who runs a 50-cow operation with his father, said he’s glad to see a friend in the county’s livestock and dairy seat.

“In my mind, extension should be somebody that I don’t have to explain my problem to explain my problem,” Sloop said. “I think they should know my operation well enough that they can pick it up and run with it.”

For Sloop, that’s Cobb.

One of Cobb’s duties is to listen to questions from farmers who want to brainstorm ideas.

Sloop said it helps farmers to take complex problems to local extension agents for help.

“We got really fortunate getting an extension agent,” Sloop said. “We really didn’t think we would get one.”

Cobb is taking the place of former extension agent Brad Johnson. Johnson left last August.

Darrell Blackwelder, director of the county’s extension agency, said the department still demands a lot of questions from local farmers who have issues that often can’t be answered with the click of a mouse.

“I’ve had people in my Master Gardners class say, ‘Well why did they put it on the Web?’ ” Blackwelder recalled. “I don’t know, but it’s completely wrong.”

In terms of reputable knowledge, Blackwelder said, the extension is similar to a travel agent.

“It doesn’t matter unless somebody understands it or has done it and can explain it,” he said.

For more information, you can reach Thomas Cobb at thomas_cobb@ncsu.edu or 704-216-8970.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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