Bob King, PhD, is the Senior Agricultural Specialist of Monroe County, and also played a key role in establishing the Agriculture and Life Sciences Institute at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. We spoke with him at his home in Webster, NY. To learn more visit www.monroecc.edu/go/agriculture.
Where are you from, and how do you think that’s influenced you?
Originally, I’m from York, Pennsylvania. We moved from Springettsbury Township, a suburb of York, to Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which is farm country. From the age of fourteen until I was about twenty-one, most of my friends were either farmers or folks who worked in factories. A lot of folks were very rural in their character and nature, but one commonality that we all shared was an interest in plants and animals. When I went to Penn State, I had an interest in the business of agriculture because I was exposed to it a lot. Most of my aunts and uncles were farmers, my grandfather on my mother’s side was a tobacco farmer and a huckster. Agriculture has always been part of my background.
“I THINK THAT THE BUSINESS OF AGRICULTURE CAN BE VERY INTERESTING AND CHALLENGING.”
After college, I ended up going to to work at Southern States Cooperative as a manager, and then I was a plant manager for the Cumberland Valley Cooperative in Shippensburg.
I got a master’s degree in business administration because I wanted to understand more about the business of agriculture. I started analyzing enterprise budgets and scale economies, and realized that I really enjoyed this type of research, and wanted to go more in depth. I started my doctorate in agricultural economics, but it was a lot of theory, and I had more interest in interacting with people, so I wound up finishing in with a PhD in agriculture education and extension with an emphasis on agronomy and economics. My thesis was on the adoption and infusion of technology and innovations.
“ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT AGRICULTURE IS THAT IT TENDS TO CHANGE EVERY FIVE YEARS, SO YOU WANT TO HAVE FLEXIBILITY IN YOUR BUILDING TO REFLECT THAT. AGRICULTURE IS QUICK TO ADAPT.”
Could you talk about some of the differences in the technology available to small and medium sized growers versus what is available to large growers?
Some of the technology is available to both. Often times what smaller growers tend to have is not as much information or access to expertise for adoption.
Regulatory hurdles can be huge. There can be a lot of money, time, and effort involved, and any one of those factors have an impact on small scale agriculture.
Recently, in Rochester NY, we have seen a lot of interest in the Eastman Business Park by large, medium, and small companies- that have an interest in agriculture and food.
What are some of the major needs that small farm infrastructure needs to fulfill?
I think it’s really important for a community- whether it’s a town, a county, or a state- to sit down and say, “We want agriculture to be here and we are going to promote agriculture by making sure farmers have access to roads, energy, water lines, and markets.”
“THE SAME INFRASTRUCTURE THAT BENEFITS AGRICULTURE ALSO BENEFITS COMMERCIAL, RESIDENTIAL, AND INDUSTRIAL USES.”