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Ronnie Barentine pictured with Dean Angle and Barry Martin

Personnel Profiles

Ronnie Barentine

Ronnie Barentine's heart is truly tied to agriculture and 4-H

Pulaski County agent Ronnie Barentine knew he wanted to work in agriculture from the time his grandfather taught him to drive a tractor. And, pulling weeds in his granddaddy's fields didn't change his mind.

Barentine grew up in Pineview in Wilcox County. After high school, he completed two years at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before enrolling at the University of Georgia where he earned a degree in agricultural economics. Having helped his grandfather farm row crops, Barentine gained some livestock experience working on the Whitehall Beef Cattle Center while a UGA student.

After graduation, he worked for four years operating a full service car wash business with his brother.

"It was good experience, but I really enjoyed agricultural work," Barentine said.

So in 1989 he applied for a position as an Extension agent in Dodge County. Twenty-three years later and the rest, as they say, is history.

"Back then, you started out as a 4-H agent but I had an agricultural appointment, too," he said. "Honestly that was the best four years I have ever had. Working with those kids was truly rewarding."

Working with 4-H allowed Barentine to return the kindness 4-H had shown his family during his younger sister's two-year battle with leukemia. (She was diagnosed in 1977 and died in 1979.)

"My little sister was big in 4-H but I wasn't. I wanted to be on the farm driving the tractor," he said. "While she was sick, the 4-H club in Wilcox County really supported our family. They held fundraisers and they helped us in ways you just will not believe."

Barentine saw his 4-H appointment as a way "to give back for what they gave to my family when my sister was so sick."

Like most agents, no matter their appointment, Barentine continues to be active in 4-H. He still regularly goes to 4-H camp and District Project Achievement competitions. "The 4-H servant spirit spilled over, and I started helping the farmers. Helping farmers is the most rewarding thing."

In 1994, he transferred to Dooly County for a nine-month stint before accepting the job as coordinator in Pulaski County. "I pretty much found a home in Pulaski County," he said.

Though his degree is in economics, Barentine sees himself as an agronomist as his passion lies in helping farmers. He has become known for his work in the area of conservation agriculture.

In 1996, he formed a partnership of sorts with local farmer Barry Martin — this year's Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Georgia Farmer of the Year — who wanted to make some changes on his farm in order to stay in business.

What started with a routine farm visit turned into a 16-year venture.

"I helped him with a strip till unit for conservation tillage and since then we have worked to perfect conservation tillage with research and field tests," he said.

At first, using conservation tillage saved Martin four or five trips across his fields. This saved time, but also saved on labor and fuel costs. What started out as an "economic thing," turned out to save soil and water resources, too.

"Most Georgia soils contain less than one percent organic matter," he said. "It turns out after a few years of conservation tillage, the organic matter in Barry's soil was raised to 2.8 percent which is phenomenal for Georgia soil."

Conservation tillage also saves two to three inches of water per year on the farm.

The Martin farm has literally become an Extension outreach site.

"Agents and professionals come together on the farm to learn about sustainable practices," he said. "Agents from Florida come up and tour the farm. And one year Jeffrey Mitchell, a cropping systems specialist from University of California-Davis, visited to learn from us. We have turned the farm into an outdoor classroom so to speak."

Groups like the Georgia Conservation Tillage Alliance and the Georgia Conservation Production System Conference now hold their meetings in Hawkinsville.

For his efforts, Barentine has been awarded the college's D.W. Brooks Award and the American Farm Bureau invited him to present at their conference in Hawaii.

Last fall, Martin won the 2011 Planter's Peanuts' Naturally Remarkable Award. Barentine and The Martin family travelled to New York City to receive their plaque. The award included $10,000 toward conservation efforts, and Martin donated the funds to the Pulaski County Extension Office's Endowment Fund.

Barentine and his Extension Leadership Team started the endowment three years ago with a $10,000 donation from the Heart of Georgia Peanut and Gin Company. Once the endowment reaches it's goal of $100,000, the funds will be used to help "keep the Extension office going," he said.

Barentine could retire in two years, but he says he "might just keep hanging around."

Extension and 4-H will always be a big part of his life. Not only does he love his job, he found his fiancée at the county office.

"Three little girls and a little boy were members of our 4-H club, and then I met their Mama (Angela Smith) when she would pick them up from the office. Now we're going to be married next year," he said. "So 4-H has truly had a large impact on my life."

When he's not helping Pulaski County farmers, Barentine spends his afternoons and weekends raising pine trees on what was his granddaddy's farm.

(Written by Sharon Dowdy, a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Released August 2012.