What to Expect from UArizona’s Extension System
Dr. Ed Martin is the Associate Vice President and Director of the UArizona Cooperative Extension. He is the chief administrator of over 500 Extension employees across the state. In this position since early 2023, Arizona Agriculture wanted to give Dr. Martin a platform to highlight Extension plans going forward.
With offices in every county and five tribal nations, Martin leads his Extension team to meet the growing needs of stakeholders, helping improve the lives, communities, environment, and economies of Arizonans across the state.
Martin oversaw the recent economic impact study showing Extension’s impact on the economies at the state and county levels. In addition, Extension recently completed a statewide needs assessment. Both studies will help develop a new Strategic Position plan that will develop a road map to help direct Extension programming and investment for years to come.
Martin earned a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering, an M.S. in Agriculture and Extension Education, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management from Michigan State University. He has been with the University of Arizona since 1992. In addition to his administrative duties, Dr. Martin is a faculty member in the Biosystems Engineering Department. His responsibilities lie mainly in irrigation water management, crop water use, and irrigation scheduling at the field level.
A long-time irrigation specialist, Dr. Martin likes to point out that he’s learned as much from agricultural producers as he has from textbooks. He enjoys telling stories about his work with Arizona’s farmers and ranchers.
Arizona Agriculture: Congratulations on your promotion. Tell us what you hope to achieve as head of UArizona’s Extension System.
Dr. Martin: To lead an organization that has the flexibility to address the ever-changing needs of our stakeholders in Arizona. When I assumed the role of Interim Director in 2021, my team and I began working towards a new Strategic Action Plan for UArizona Extension. I believed it was time for Extension to reevaluate its programming priorities and work with our stakeholders to ensure we meet their needs effectively and efficiently. I am also working towards securing ongoing state funding that will allow Extension to meet those clientele needs in a state where population growth is among the highest in the nation. Finally, I want to secure our stakeholders’ trust in Arizona Extension by delivering timely, relevant, and impactful programs throughout the state.
Arizona Agriculture: While so many of us in agriculture know why Extension is so important, share in your own words why Extension is so important.
Dr. Martin: The strength of Extension is our reach, as we have offices in all 15 counties and in five tribal nations. We’re in a unique position to collaborate with groups across the state to improve people’s lives, communities, the environment, and the economy of Arizona.
The need for scientific, research-based information is greater now than ever before, as disinformation spreads quickly online and through social media. Extension is here as a trusted source to address the issues and challenges facing Arizonans today. We provide data on sustainable agricultural practices, support families with financial education and positive parenting workshops, provide meaningful mentorship opportunities to youth through 4-H, and address nutrition, wellness, and quality of life concerns in the home and on the job.
Arizona Agriculture: Share one or two special stories you like to tell about your experiences with our Arizona farmers and ranchers.
Dr. Martin: When I started in 1992 as Extension’s Irrigation Specialist, I was a bit wet behind the ears, as they say. Coming from Michigan, I had much to learn about Arizona agriculture. I am grateful for the support and patience of Arizona growers, who undoubtedly took me under their wing to help me help them.
Your Father, Pat Murphree, was one of my earliest mentors. Working together at the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC), I spent many Friday afternoons with Pat, driving the fields and getting a new lesson each time. Since Pat, there have been numerous mentors from the agricultural community who have helped me better understand their connection to the land and proved repeatedly that Arizona growers and ranchers are some of the best stewards of our state’s natural resources.
Arizona Agriculture: In Arizona with UArizona as our Land Grant University, what makes our linkages with the university, Extension, and agriculture production so special? Where are we a cut above or at least setting a high bar in the Extension world across the country?
Dr. Martin: Cooperative Extension leads in so many areas. Recently, a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by users and managers of the Prescott National Forest. Our work with ranchers and federal agencies who oversee these lands demonstrates that agreements can be reached with research-based scientific data, open communication, and trust. We are paving the way for other states to follow.
Integrated Pest Management is another programmatic area where Cooperative Extension leads as our faculty and staff are among the best in the nation. Our producers have reaped the benefit of working with these outstanding people, including reductions in pesticide applications, improving agricultural production, and keeping Arizona producers competitive in a global market.
Other accomplishments include our food safety work with the leafy green industry, contributions to climate science, and our new programs, which include the Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center and Beginning Farmer and Urban Agriculture initiatives. I could go on, but I assure you, there are many aspects of Arizona Extension, even those outside the area of agriculture, where others across the nation look to us as a model.
Arizona Agriculture: Additionally, what’s important to you and the Extension staff? With this platform, what do you hope to convey?
Dr. Martin: As the head of UArizona Cooperative Extension, it is critical for me and the Extension faculty and staff in the state to prioritize several key aspects of the Extension mission. First and foremost, we are committed to providing high-quality, research-based information and education to support the needs of our community, particularly in the agriculture sector. We hope to convey the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in our programs, ensuring that everyone can benefit from our resources regardless of their background or location.
We aim to convey our dedication to innovation and adaptability through this platform. Agriculture constantly evolves, and we want to be at the forefront of emerging trends and technologies. We also need to emphasize our commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, as these are integral to the future of agriculture in Arizona.
Arizona Agriculture: I ask the same question, but now on behalf of the producer class.
Dr. Martin: We understand that producer’s needs are at the heart of our mission to be a reliable source of support and information for farmers and ranchers. What’s important to us and the Extension faculty and staff, specifically for the producer class, includes:
- Timely and relevant information: We want to provide producers with the latest research, best practices, and market insights directly impacting their livelihoods.
- Collaboration and engagement: We are committed to listening to the voices of producers and actively involving them in shaping our programs and initiatives. Their feedback and input are invaluable.
- Economic viability: We understand that agriculture is a business, and the financial well-being of producers is essential. We’ll work to provide resources and strategies that help them remain profitable and sustainable and support their growth.
- Resilience and adaptability: Agriculture faces various challenges, from climate change to market fluctuations. We aim to convey the importance of resilience and provide tools to help producers adapt to changing circumstances.
Ultimately, our goal is to empower our producers, ensuring they have the knowledge and resources needed to thrive in a dynamic agricultural landscape.
Arizona Agriculture: So much of what Extension does requires extended collaboration with all types of stakeholders. Where do you think we can improve and how do we achieve that?
Dr. Martin: We need to continue building and nurturing our stakeholders’ trust in Extension. Over the years, we have been a trusted partner for Arizona agriculture. We need to be mindful of the trust we have developed and ensure that we never lose that, because trust can be gone in an instant.
We must continue to have conversations and seek out input from our stakeholders. Whether it is a new grant to address issues facing Arizona agriculture or even hiring the people working with our producers, we must be more intentional in getting feedback from our stakeholders. One of Extension’s strengths is our ability and willingness to listen to our stakeholders’ concerns and act on their comments as a trusted partner. The key here is communication and transparency. Communication ensures stakeholders are kept up-to-date, and transparency assures our partners better understand the operations of Extension. Without consistent and open communication and transparency, we lose that trust we worked so hard to build.
Arizona Agriculture: This position can be demanding. How do you plan to balance it all?
Dr. Martin: To be quite honest, I have one of the best teams and support systems in the state. Our state Extension office continues to work as a team, helping support our county faculty, staff, state Specialists, and Tribal Extension Programs. In addition, the county staff, those who support their programs, also help keep us balanced and on track. And I must say I have received outstanding support from our academic unit heads and the upper administration in CALES and the division. Everyone has been so supportive in helping me stay on top of things.
Finally, I cannot dismiss the support I get from home, from my wife, Tonya, and our kids, whose understanding and support help get me through every day.
Arizona Agriculture: There’s been shifts and changes in the research world including trying to adapt to the expectations and expediency of what is needed for application in production agriculture. Where can Extension help this effort and some things for the urgent expectations of farmers and ranchers?
Dr. Martin: We are currently working on a new strategic positioning plan. This is akin to a typical strategic plan but with an emphasis on getting Cooperative Extension in the proper “position” to address the ever-changing landscape of agricultural production and other challenges across the state. In the coming months, we’ll be asking many of your readers to attend listening sessions, engage with our Strategic Position Committee, and help with the Extension plan for the next five to ten years. We want to make sure that Extension can address new threats and challenges to agriculture production in the state as they arise.
We recently received a one-time increase from the state legislature, allowing us to invest in innovations within Extension. We have hired new employees to expand Extension impact across the state. We hope to make this new funding ongoing, so we don’t lose the moment we have built and can address the needs of agricultural production across the state in both the short and long term.
Arizona Agriculture: What have I not asked that you’d like to talk about?
Dr. Martin: Since taking on the role of Interim Director in June of 2021, Arizona Cooperative Extension has been working on a three-phase approach to improving our program delivery and meeting the expectations of our stakeholders.
The first was to perform an economic impact analysis of Extension’s work within the state, with the full report available online for all to read: The Economic and Functional Impact of Arizona Extension.pdf. This analysis showed that for every dollar of ongoing funding from the state, Extension has a $4.87 economic impact. This is one of the highest returns on investment of any Extension system in the country. The report also lists the functional impacts, including dollars saved in reducing pesticide applications due to our Integrated Pest Management team, dollars saved in healthcare costs due to our nutrition programs, or even the impact of our 4-H program on the youth of Arizona.
The second phase was a recently completed needs assessment survey. Results from Statewide Needs Assessment | Cooperative Extension | The University of Arizona survey can be found online as well and include county and state-level data. Not surprisingly, water was one of the highest priority issues identified. In addition, childcare and K-12 education also ranked very high.
Now, with these two phases complete, we will begin our strategic position process. We will need feedback from your members and others across the state so we can position Extension to meet the needs of our stakeholders.
I also would like to thank everyone in the agricultural community for their support of Extension, as it ensures that Extension will continue to be a relevant, trusted source of research-based information that improves people’s lives, communities, the environment, and the economy of Arizona.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Arizona Agriculture.