John Parker to receive Distinguished Ag Alumni Award

CORTLAND, Ohio – During a 34-year career with OSU Extension, John Parker made a notable and enduring contribution to the Ohio agriculture.

Since his retirement he has been equally involved, working with the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and Trumbull County extension to promote the cause of agriculture in his community.

And it is for his accomplishments since 1985 as much as for his outstanding professional career that Parker is being honored by the OSU College of Agriculture’s Alumni Society.

Parker has been named one of the eight College of Agriculture alumni who will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award at OSU Feb. 24.

Commitment to people.

“Parker is being recognized for a career in extension marked by consistent success and an unyielding commitment to helping people help themselves,” said college alumni coordinator Ray Miller in announcing the award.

When Parker retired in 1985, he had been area extension supervisor for the Canfield area and was, for the last two years, assistant to the director of extension, Michael Sprott.

Now, at 76, he is about as busy as he ever was. The big difference these days, he said, is that if he’s asked to do something he doesn’t particularly enjoy, he can turn it down.

He is chairman of a committee that conceived and designed a county agricultural center that will soon be built in Trumbull County.

Writes and speaks.

He writes a weekly senior column and coordinates an agricultural column for the Warren Tribune Chronicle. He has also organized and made more than 60 appearances for a Trumbull County Farm Bureau agricultural speaker’s bureau.

Parker began his career with extension after he graduated from OSU in 1951 with a degree in agricultural economics and with a dairy speciality.

As associate county agent in Summit County and then county agent in Ashtabula County, he primarily worked with dairy farmers with herds of 30 to 35 cows.

One of the enduring issues of his career was herd expansion. In the 1960s, Parker organized the first field trip for Ohio dairy farmers to California to tour some of the larger dairy farms.

Uniting farmers.

But an even more vital issue to him throughout his career has been his advocacy of dairy farmer organization and joint action.

He came to Ashtabula County, he said, at the time organized labor first began to attempt to organize dairy farmers.

“The union organizers wanted the support of the county agents,” Parker said, “and they weren’t very understanding. If you weren’t with them, you were against them. There was no middle ground.”

But Parker said that in calling for a holding action, which was in reality to dump milk, the union revealed that it didn’t really understand dairy farming.

“They were used to the strike, of withholding their labor,” Parker said.

But a dairy farmer, he said, also has to provide the cost of production, which labor never has to assume. A farmer is providing both labor and costs.

Very thin line.

The turmoil that organizing created, he said, set farmer against farmer, and made his job one of walking a very thin line.

“I call it a success that I was able to run a very active dairy program throughout this period, and that what we did seemed to meet everyone’s needs. The saving grace was that I had a very solid dairy committee, and we did what was reasonable. We were never accused of taking sides.”

After the union movement subsided, Parker said the cooperatives stepped in to fill the void.

He said he believes in cooperatives, and that farmers should unite to help themselves. But as he has watched cooperatives consolidating and growing in recent years, he has come to believe they, too, are failing to serve the best interests of the individual dairy farmer.

One regret.

What Parker most regrets, and what he says he thinks he will never see happen in his lifetime, is that he could not have had a part in bringing dairy farmers together.

“Milk dumping was never the answer,” Parker said, “but if farmers across the country would get together in order to control production, they could set the price of milk.”

“As I understand it,” he said, “there is no more than a 5 percent oversupply of milk, yet that holds the prices down. If there was a slight deficit, prices would sharply increase.

“If farmers could agree together to produce just enough to keep the supply in balance, they could demand a much higher price,” he said.

“I would have like to have played some small part in getting that done,” he said.

Grape industry.

While he was in Ashtabula County, Parker said he also assisted the county’s grape farmers in making the switch to wine grapes, even though he knew nothing about grape culture.

He was also one of three extension agents who personally signed their names on a mortgage to allow extension to acquire 265 acres that became 4-H Camp Whitewood.

Parker said one of the most rewarding things he has done in his career has been one of his major accomplishments since he retired.

Geauga cheese house.

It was the role he played in assisting the Amish farmers in Geauga County to build their own cheese house.

He had taken on a temporary assignment of serving as the part-time extension agent to work with the county dairy program, Parker said.

A contingent of Amish farmers came to him when their cooperative fell apart. They wanted to establish a cheese house.

He worked with them for eight years. He assisted them in learning about cheese making, in reorganizing their cooperative, in finding a cheesemaker, in getting assistance from the federal rural development program.

“I spent many hours in Amish homes, sitting around the table working with them on this project,” Parker said. “I met with them, worked with them, ate with them, and got acquainted with them.

“I think I really learned to understand them and how they think. That was the most exciting thing about having this opportunity.”

Extension education.

As a Farm Bureau speaker, as a newspaper columnist, as an extension agent, Parker has always been involved in the process of education, of helping both his community and the farmers he works with understand agricultural issues.

Education, Parker said, is what he thinks extension is about, and what it has always done best, “taking a program out to where people are, and listening to people to base that program on what they need and what they want.”

“We give our clients the best information we’ve got, based on research and experience. Then we let them take it and make their own decisions about what to do with it. If farmers get the right information, they usually make the right decisions.”

The other 2001 Distinguished Alumni recipients are:

* Irv Bell, Zanesville, class of ’67, who oversees the Bell Farm, a multi-family swine network. Bell has been active with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and is a member of the Animal Science Hall of Fame.

* John C. Fisher, Worthington, class of ’67, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

* Richard S. Leiss, Columbus, class of ’60, scientist and research director for Worthington Foods.

* Robert J. McCoy, Cincinnati, class of ’53, agricultural commodity specialist for Procter and Gamble, he retired in 1994 as associate director of corporate purchases.

* George Good, Dryden, N.Y., class of ’62, professor of floriculture and ornamental horticulture and long-time chairman of the department of horticulture at Cornell University.

* Brett Scharringhausen, Tampa, Fla., class of ’81, lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force and currently assigned as crisis action team chief at the U.S. Central Command at MacDill AFB.

* Lowell E. Hedges, Prospect, Ohio, class of ’52, former vocational agriculture teacher and associate professor in agricultural education at OSU. He has consulted in developing degree programs in India, Uganda, Turkey, and China.

Information about reservations to attend the alumni awards reception, dinner, and program is available by calling alumni coordinator Ray Miller at 614-292-8124. Reservations are due by Feb. 16.

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