The Panola County AgriLife Extension Service has had to change things up a bit, but they are working hard to continue providing services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panola County Ag Extension Agent Lee Dudley said that the biggest change they’ve had is that everything is being done virtually now. Facebook has been a big tool for them. His coworker Carrie Moon does a Facebook Life every Wednesday over SCH and 4-H concerns, while he does one every Thursday over agricultural concerns.

“I lump in agriculture, I lump in beef, forage, wild life, horticulture and aquatic plants, aquatic pests, stuff like that,” Dudley said. “So we do something every Thursday relating to those deals, during the lunch time. She does it Wednesday, usually around lunchtime, and it’s about 20 minutes that we do on it, where we can hit something.”

4-H programs have taken a big hit during this, Dudley said. County, district and even state contests have been cancelled.

“It’s a lot of difference,” he said. “We’re doing stuff, we’re providing stuff for the 4-Hers. We realize the kids are very busy right now doing online schooling, and we’re putting stuff out on our Facebook, kind of little fun activities for them to do to kind of give them a little break in the school work. Things they can do family wide, little fun activities they can do after they get done with their schoolwork.”

The Extension Service has had to cancel and postpone its own events too.

“We’re not able to have face to face meetings,” Dudley said. “We had to cancel our Mid Sabine Cattlemen’s that was the end of March. We had to cancel that because this all hit right at the same time as that was fixing to start, and we didn’t have time to turn that into a virtual program, so we had to cancel that and postpone it, and we’re working to reschedule it for a face-to-face meeting toward the end of August.”

Dudley said their quarterly ag industry breakfast meeting, originally set for May 7, has been moved back to May 21 to give them some more breathing room.

“We’ve got that set currently as a face to face meeting at the expo so that we can keep our social distancing if we need to, if we’re allowed to have small groups, say 15 or so,” Dudley said. “We’re trying to hear those guidelines. We haven’t heard that yet if we’re doing to be able to. It still gives us time if we’re not able to after that May 4, we can convert it over to a virtual training through Zoom.”

During the pandemic there has been a huge boom in backyard poultry, Dudley said, so big that they’re working with the poultry science department at A&M to develop a virtual lunchtime learning series for the end of May.

“It’d be a four-day, one-hour session during the lunchtime that’s going to focus on backyard poultry production,” Dudley said. “Basically from step one, we’re going to have from the beginning to the end type deal. Picking your chickens, selecting the types of chickens, all the way through the housing, the feeding, nutrition, and then processing. That whole step of it. We’ll be getting that out, starting on that, because we’ve just been fielding so much questions on backyard poultry, that, OK, this is something we need.”

Not being able to do farm visits or site visits to help consult with people on their agricultural needs has been missed, Dudley said.

“I think when this is all done, we’re going to greatly appreciate our face to face contacts better, the ability to have that time,” Dudley said. “We’ve got a large committee group here in Panola County, and I’ve been calling them on the phone talking with them, and we all miss that social interaction and that fellowship together.”