Pratt County Extension Agent Mark Ploger has retired after 12 years in Pratt County and 25 years overall.
"I wouldn't trade the experience for anything," said retiring Pratt County Extension Agent Mark Ploger.
Ploger is ready to close this chapter in his life but when he first applied, things looked a little iffy about getting the job.
He was the last one on the list. Sometimes being last is a bad thing but for Ploger being the last one interviewed for his first extension job paid off with a career that lasted a quarter of a century.
Ploger's last day as an extension agent was Dec. 22 but it wasn't quite the end of his obligations. Ploger still has a few events he was previously scheduled to attend but now he will be there as an Unpaid Extension Program Assistant.
"I still get to be part of the community but in a different form. I still get to work along side them," Ploger said.
When Ploger was hired as an extension agent in Edwards County in 1991, he had already spent a dozen years on the Edwards County Extension Board. He was a farmer for 18 years with a stocker-feeder operation with 700 to 1,000 head, a cow-calf operation with 50 to 75 head and dry land crops of wheat and milo. When he became an Extension Agent, he brought a lot of practical experience to the table. He learned about the ups and down of running a farm and how to handle it.
"You have to ride it through," Ploger said.
This experience was invaluable as an Extension agent. He knew farmers would experience good times and bad. He had been there and walked in their shoes.
Besides his practical farming experience, Ploger also had a degree in agriculture economics from Kansas State University.
When most of his farm was put into CRP, his wife Earlene said he had get to work so the Extension position came along at just the right time.
"When I put the farm in CRP, I needed to do something else. I had just turned 40 and I had a lot of practical experience," Ploger said.
Ploger decided to apply for that first Extension Agent position because he learned a lot about Extension while on the Edwards County Council and really enjoyed helping the board meet its goals and helping the producers.
Once he was hired, he had to retrain in horticulture. Extension provided a vast amount of training. Specialists would come out and share their cutting edge information.
Ploger liked being an extension agent so much, he said he probably should have done that first instead of going into farming.
Ploger's abilities caught the eye of then Pratt County Extension Agent Jean Clarkson-Frisbie. She was impressed and offered him a job. Ploger got to know Pratt while Earlene was taking medical treatments in Pratt and thought it was a good place to be. It had big town amenities but still had the small town size. So when Clarkson-Frisbie offered him the job. She said "We need you down here" and he took the job, said Ploger who was an agent in Pratt County for 12 years.
One element of being an Extension Agent is they never stop learning. The agents have to work just to keep up on the latest information and technology.
One of his favorite activities as an Extension Agent was working with the 4-H club members. He had been in 4-H and just like working with the members. The members were also impressed with Ploger so much that his former 4-H'ers have become Extension Agents in Reno and Kiowa and Kingman Counties. A former 4-H'er, Jake Renner, is the Kingman County Extension Agent right now.
"It's nice to know you might have had a little bit of influence," Ploger said.
As he retires, Ploger said the biggest challenge he faces as an Extension Agent is keeping up with the all the changes especially in technology. He said he really had to study to keep up.
When he started as an extension agent, knowledge would double about every 10 years. Then it was five years then six months then three months so it was more and more of a challenge to keep up.
Ploger said the thing he liked the best about being an Extension Agent was the whole program. It was like a big family. If an agent needed help with a project, two or three would show up to help.
"We all work together. Everyone helps out," Ploger said. "We have great camaraderie in the Extension Program."
During his tenure as an agent he has only worked with Clarkson-Frisbie and Jodi Drake as Extension Agents. Clarkson-Frisbie had the respect of everyone in the state and her opinion quickly become everyone elses opinion. Drake is on the same track. She is very knowledgable. It has been a joy to work with her, Ploger said.
Ploger said he was going to miss everything about the job. He really enjoyed being around people and helping them out.
Ploger grew up on a farm north of Kinsley. He attended high school in Hugoton and eventually graduated from high school in Garden City. He graduated from Garden City Community College with an associates degree then attended Kansas State University where he graduated with a bachelors degree in agriculture economics.
He had full intentions to work on a master's degree when he got the chance to take over the family farm. He had already started taking graduate classes and told a professor about the farming opportunity. The professor advised him to drop the graduate program and go work on the farm, which he did.