Before Frank Becker opened a textbook, he had learned firsthand the environmentally sensitive practices farmers could use to control pests in their crops.
He tagged along with his dad, Ron, to grower meetings and crop walks, then his formal education led him to eventually take over as coordinator for the Integrated Pest Management Program for the Ohio State University Extension, Wayne County, a position his father held for 30 years. Now Frank Becker is putting a diverse agricultural background to use in the same office.
As the county’s newest Extension agriculture and natural resources educator, Frank Becker’s first mission is to find ways to reconnect and build relationships with farmers and agriculturalists. As the IPM coordinator, he’s already built solid relationships with many farmers and growers. His favorite part of the job, he said, “is to be out in the field with them doing what I can to answer their questions and solve problems.”
He’s hoping to extend those relationships by reconnecting the agriculture and natural resources communities to Extension.
“If I come onto someone’s farm and that person hasn’t talked to Extension in 20 years, I think that’s a great opportunity to build those relationships,” he said.
Frank Becker holds two associate degrees from OSU Agricultural Technical Institute, one in sustainable agriculture and another in agronomy. He also earned a bachelor of science degree in sustainable plant systems from OSU and is working on a master’s degree in plant health management from Ohio State. He studied animal science as part of the sustainable agriculture program.
His initial exposure to Extension and its role in the community came from watching his father work with the IPM program.
“He knows everything you can know about diseases and bugs,” Frank Becker said. “There’s not a lot of formal education in dealing with fruits and vegetables,” he said, “so a lot of his knowledge comes from learning by doing.”
Frank Becker said his father instilled in him that same kind of passion and drive to learn by being with farmers in the field. “Not to just learn it in textbooks, but to educate yourself by trial and error.”
He said his dad maintained the IPM program when other programs were falling by the wayside. During the late 1970s, every Ohio county had an IPM program, but by the mid-80s, that number had dropped to a handful of counties. Wayne County is now the only county in Ohio that offers IPM.
That program will continue as part of Frank Becker’s role as agriculture and natural resources educator. A new work space for him and the IPM scouts is opening in the old highway garage. “It will be a really nice workspace for our scouts to analyze samples and count insects,” Frank Becker said. His main office will remain with the rest of the Extension staff in the Wayne County Administration Building, 428 W. Liberty St.
Having not grown up on a farm, Frank Becker said he pushed himself to learn as much as he could about agriculture.
“Farmers are intelligent people,” he said, “and not being around that (farm setting) everyday means there’s a lot to learn.” He also saw the importance of making his agricultural knowledge applicable.
He started by tilling under half of his family’s front yard and planting a vegetable garden for his FFA Supervised Occupational Experience project. “I really went all out and grew every kind of tomato I could,” Frank Becker said. “The garden looked like a seed catalog with so many different varieties of tomatoes and peppers.”
He sold what he grew to neighbors and at a produce auction and small roadside stand. A grant from the National FFA allowed him to build a high tunnel (hoop house) for a greenhouse so he could extend his growing season. The tunnel allowed him to see the benefits of disease and pest management. It also won him the State FFA proficiency award for vegetable production and earned him a trip to Ireland where he visited vegetable and fruit growers. He also took a job on a dairy farm.
“I was trying to pull knowledge from all areas of agriculture together to make myself as well rounded as possible,” he said. As a certified crop advisor, he is able to scout fields for problems that may arise during the growing season and make recommendations for decisions involving seed and fertilizer, pest management and disease treatment.
Farmers make up less than 1 percent of the population, Frank Becker said. That means less than 1 percent of the nation is feeding 100 percent of the people. “So now more than ever, it’s important to find ways to support farmers,” he said. “For the small part I have in that, I’m really excited to be here and to be a part of it.”
Laurie Sidle is a 4-H and FCS Program Assistant for OSU Extension-Wayne County.