Mission: Possible

By Bradford Sherman & Thomas Worley
CFAES/South Centers

Even during this time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, the critical mission of enhancing southern Ohio and assisting people with informed decision-making through responsive research, education, entrepreneurial application, and collaborative partnerships continues to be the guiding priority for all programs at the College’s Piketon campus.

Work across all program areas continues at The Ohio State University South Centers, either with on-site personnel to insure that all facilities and farm operations remain functional and secure or through telecommuting from home, as Ohio and the nation rides out the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Centers began a temporary closure to the public on March 17 in compliance with the guidance provided by university leadership. With only the most critical staff permitted on the premises for keeping fish fed, maintaining perennial crops, and performing facility walk-throughs, it meant that South Centers needed to adapt and change the way it serves clientele.

“In normal times we rely heavily upon delivering our information, training, and counseling through direct, in-person meetings and workshops,” explained South Centers Director Dr. Tom Worley. “These ‘stay at home and work from home’ times have challenged us to be creative and innovative in our methods of delivery and our staff have all risen to the occasion to continue our work in all programs including aquaculture, business development, soil and water, and specialty crops.”

In this issue, you will read several stories outlining how those various programs are working to meet the challenge. Some of our specialists are involved in Ag Madness, a creative virtual Extension workshop teaching platform that invokes the spirit of the NCAA basketball tournament; others are using similar digital tools to either disseminate their knowledge to the public; and our support staff makes certain that it all runs smoothly. Some are continuing to apply for grants to fund current and future research, or helping farmers and food producers continue their critical operations, while our business team members are counseling regional banks, businesses, and industries through the numerous financial assistance programs being rolled out via new federal legislation during this crucial time.

“Video conferences, teleconferences, email, instant messaging and newsletters, blogs and social media posts have kept staff in touch with our clientele, added Worley. “Although business owners and managers have been hard hit by the restrictions placed on them, our counselors have done their best to keep abreast of the economic assistance programs that have been put in place to keep paychecks coming for employees and forgivable loans provided to small and medium size businesses to meet other operating expenses in the short run.”   

Of course, not all work can be performed remotely and a limited number of staff continue to come to the South Centers campus as necessary to perform certain critical tasks. 
For example, the aquaculture staff have maintained all of the yellow perch, bluegill, and largemouth bass that are the primary focus of the aquaculture research and Extension program at South Centers.

Thousands of fish in our 16 ponds as well as fish held in around 260 indoor water-recirculating or flow-thru tanks continue to be fed and their water quality maintained on a daily basis by our research assistants coming on site for a few hours each day. 

“Our field support staff members have also been engaged on-site to the extent necessary to conduct essential spring activity in our plots and field trials of wine grapes, several kinds of berries, hops, and bioenergy crops,” Worley explained.

These are all perennial crops that take several years to establish and thus it is critical that they be maintained during this critical spring period.  All routine operations including fungicide, herbicide and insecticide applications, and pruning and mulching are being performed by our field research assistants in a timely manner.

OSU South Centers staff members look forward to when our operations can return to a more normal, although certainly to be different, way of operating. Until that time comes, we will continue to strive toward delivering on our mission by serving the needs of people within the many communities touched by our programs in any way we can. 

As you will read in the following pages, this experience has taught us new and innovative ways to serve you, which we will be able to carry forward and implement into future programming. Most likely, we will never be the same, but we certainly intend to make the new ways of serving our widely scattered clients a most positive outcome.