BY DAVID FISHER
WEAKLEY COUNTY (November 23) — Weakley County Extension Director and Agriculture Agent Jeff Lannom recently announced his retirement, effective December 31, 2021. During his 32-year career, he has provided local farmers with expert advice on how to maximize crop yields and improve livestock production. In addition to agriculture, Lannom and other members of the Weakley County Extension staff, serve the public through programs in family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development.
Lannom is responsible for coordinating the entire Extension program for Weakley County. He provides leadership for a program of activities that meets the needs of all eligible clientele regardless of race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, religion or veteran status.
His primary program responsibilities are agriculture and rural development. These responsibilities include planning, teaching and evaluation of the adult agriculture Extension program. He also conducts on-farm demonstrations, as well as, variety testing in corn, soybeans and wheat.
Additionally, he collaborated with state Extension specialists with on-farm demonstrations of remote soil moisture sensing, reverse tile irrigation, temperature inversions and their effect on herbicide stewardship, crop insect and disease monitoring, foliar-applied crop yield enhancement, variable-rate soybean seeding, and cover crops to combat soil erosion, improve soil bio-diversity and protect water quality in northwest Tennessee watersheds.
Lannom’s job qualifications include receiving a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree in 1982, and a Master of Science in Education degree in 1993 – both from the University of Tennessee in Martin.
“I grew up in Gibson County and was living there when I got hired in 1990,” Lannom said. “At that particular time, University of Tennessee Extension had a policy that you couldn’t be hired to work in your own home county. You had to move to whatever county you were assigned to.” Although this policy was discontinued several years ago, it was the reason he had to relocate to another county.
“The economy was really slow at that time. It took me a little over a year to sell our house in Gibson County and move to Weakley County, where I’ve been a resident since 1991.”
“We were just beginning to use computers when I started. A lot of our reports were done in duplicate or triplicate using carbon paper.”
Lannom began his career as a 4-H agent working with 4-H students. During this time, he met with more than 50 monthly in-school clubs. Under his leadership annual 4-H Camp attendance ranged from 100-160 campers.
“I’ve watched the 4-H’ers start their own families, start their own businesses, or go into farming, and be very successful,” Lannom said. “Through those students, of course, I’ve met and worked with their parents, as well. So, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people and make some really good friendships through those connections. Some of those people have taken me in and treated me like family. Those are some of the most rewarding things I got to witness. I’ve got farmers I’m working with now that were 4-Hers of mine. To see the progress of them growing up and starting families of their own, and to see their kids come through 4-H, completes the cycle. That’s been kind of neat.”
After four years as the 4-H Youth Development Agent, Lannom was moved into the position of Adult Agriculture Agent. “I continued to work in the agriculture educational field, only now I was working with adults,” he said.
“In 1998, I became the County Extension Director,” Lannom said. “I was still in adult agriculture, working with farmers, homeowners and gardeners with lawn problems, and answered questions about shade trees and fruit trees, but I also picked up the administrative responsibilities of the office.” With all of these duties, Lannom’s job description received the designation of Weakley County Extension Director and Agriculture Agent. His areas of responsibilities include: agriculture and natural resources, executive/administrative duties, and community economic development.
Jerry McMaster was the Weakley County Extension Leader (agent) when Lannom was hired. “I learned a lot from Mr. McMaster,” Lannom said. “He was a great guy.” Lannom stated he also learned quite a bit from Bob Williams, who worked in the local agriculture extension office.
“I’ve always been fortunate to have a good staff,” Lannom said. There have only been two administrative associates, during his career – Jessie Mansfield, who retired 21 years ago; and Pam Filtz, who has served in this position since. Other current staff members are: Beverly Shelby, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent; Will Gregory, 4-H Youth/Adult Agriculture Agent; and Mary Morgan, 4-H Youth Development Agent.
As County Extension Director, Lannom is responsible for compiling University of Tennessee reports, conducting staff performance appraisals, and collaborating with Weakley County government for an annual budget of approximately $100,000. He also procured larger, new office space for Extension personnel in 2019.
“Extension is like anything else. Things change over time,” Lannom said. He has implemented hundreds of ag-related programs over the years.
“Probably, the most impactful program that I was able to be a part of was Standardized Variety Testing,” Lannom said. “Every county that wants to participate gets the same varieties of corn, soybeans, wheat, etc. to plant.” He stated these varieties are planted on participating farms across West and Middle Tennessee. This provides data indicating how these varieties fare in different types of soils and various weather conditions, using different farming practices. This comparison shows growers which hybrids are the top-yielding varieties. Area farmers then plant the top varieties on their farms to increase crop yields. This program has been in operation for well over three decades and is very beneficial to farmers financially.
“You work with cooperating producers, on their farms, with their farm equipment, to plant the plots,” Lannom said. “When they harvest the plots, we come back and weigh them to determine what the yield was. I turn that data in to the University of Tennessee Eastern Regional Extension Office in Knoxville, which is our flagship office, and this information is made available to farmers statewide. As an incentive to participate in the program, farmers are provided with free seeds, and they keep whatever profit they receive from selling the grain harvested from these plots.
“So, it’s not only an educational benefit, but it doesn’t hurt them financially. For example, we might have 20 different corn varieties that mature at different times. A farmer would plant one of the varieties, and other farmers would plant different maturities of corn. However, all of the wheat varieties mature about the same time.”
Since 1994, more than 70 Weakley County producers planted and harvested more than 1,100 varieties in the County Standardized Testing Program, which has had a $6.6 million average positive impact for Weakley County producers over the past 5 years.
From 1996 to the present, approximately 61 different crop enhancement products were tested on 97 different farm locations.
Lannom stated he has given demonstrations over the years showing farmers about different products, such as fertilizers or other treatments applied to the leaves of plants or in-furrow, to see if these products result in a yield increase or financial benefit.
“I’ve done thousands of side-by-side comparisons of different kinds of products. Every year, I test one or two products on multiple farms in cooperation with participating farmers.
“There has been a tremendous amount of change over the years,” Lannom said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in farming methods. Equipment has changed. The size of farms has changed.
“I’ve seen farming transition from a tillage-type system to mostly a no-till system, and the dependence on herbicides to keep crops clean.” He noted new herbicides, insecticide and fungicides are continually evolving. “Over time I’ve had to learn about these new products and how to use them safely. We’ve always offered training for farmers to become certified to use those products.”
“We want to make sure farmers are up to date using the latest things,” Lannom said. “And, of course, they want to stay efficient and profitable; so they have an incentive to learn more and do more, and we’re here to assist with that.”
He also planned, coordinated and served as presenter at the annual Weakley County Farm Conference, which had an attendance range of 100-170 producers over the past four years.
According to Lannom, most of the information about the latest and greatest equipment is industry driven. He explained, “Producers have become larger in the acreage they work and larger in their operations. So, there has been a gradual, but continual, trend to go to larger equipment – bigger tractors, planters, combines and tillers. There are fewer farmers, but larger farms. The experts tell us, this trend will continue.”
Lannom states, no-till and minimum-till techniques have largely replaced the traditional breaking-plow farming used by our forefathers to reduce soil erosion. In fact, no-till farming has been utilized by farmers for the past 40 years. Another modern farming technique is vertical-till farming, which makes a very narrow slot in the soil, in which seeds are planted. Both of these techniques leave soil residue on the surface. This reduces soil erosion. It also helps with weed control and to maintain moisture in the soil. Since the surface soil is mostly undisturbed, passersby may not be able to tell that a field has been cultivated or planted.
Weather is always an important and unpredictable variable that farmers must contend with over the growing season. “There have been good and bad crop years,” Lannom said. “Although annual rainfall averages 52 inches per year in Tennessee, there have been droughts. Rainfall is very important. Crops depend on how much rain they receive and when it falls. Rainfall this time of year doesn’t do you a lot of good; but rainfall in July and August, is very beneficial to crops.”
During his directorship, Lannom assembled 70 years of Weakley County climate data cooperating with UT Martin educating producers on monthly and yearly precipitation and temperature averages and extremes.
“No two days are alike in extension work,” Lannom said. “One phone call could change your plans. So, you have to be very flexible in trying to get your work done. You never know what the question is going to be when you answer a call. It could range from beehives to bird houses to soybeans.”
“All in all, it’s been a really good career for me,” Lannom said. “I’ve been very blessed to be able to work in the same county for all 32 years, and make contacts and get to know people. I feel like God blessed me tremendously to allow me to stay right here and have my entire career here.”
During Lannom’s long and distinguished career, he received numerous honors, awards and memberships as follows:
Outstanding Young Agent Award – Tennessee Association of Agricultural Agents and Specialists, 1994;
William F. Moss Award – To Support a Study of Extension Programs Offered in Other States, University of Tennessee Extension, 2004;
Outstanding UT Extension Agent – Western Region TAAA&S, 2006;
Charles and Julie Wharton Award for Outstanding Extension Achievement – University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Extension, 2012;
Tennessee Agricultural Agents and Specialists – Distinguished Service Award, 2015
National Association of County Agricultural Agents – Distinguished Service Award, 2015
Tennessee Association of Agricultural Agents and Specialists – Hicks Award of Excellence, 2015
Lannom resides in Greenfield with his wife, Lynn. The couple has two sons and two granddaughters.
During his retirement, Lannom will be able to spend more time with his family. As an avid outdoorsman, he will also have the opportunity to pursue some of his favorite activities, including camping and duck hunting.
It is not known how long it will be before the University Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agency fills Lannom’s position following his retirement, or who will be named to take over the job.
Weakley County Extension Office
The Weakley County Extension staff serves the public through programs in Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences, and 4-H Youth Development.
The Weakley County Extension Office, which is an outreach branch of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, has been in Dresden since 1912, one year before the United States Department of Agriculture authorized Extension nationwide. Their mission is the same today as it was 109 years ago – to provide the public with research-generated solutions and information, in order to improve the quality of life for local citizens.
Occupations, lifestyles and technology have changed, but the need for information has not. If anything, that need is greater today than ever. The Weakley County Extension Office is a unique partnership between Weakley County Government, The University of Tennessee and the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Weakley County Extension Office is located inside the Weakley County Office Building at 135 South Poplar St., Suite B, in Dresden. Office hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
For more information, call 731-364-3164; or, send an email to:
Jeff Lannom: Extension Director, Agriculture Agent — firstname.lastname@example.org
Beverly Shelby: Family and Consumer Sciences Agent — email@example.com
Will Gregory: 4-H Youth/Adult Agriculture Agent — firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Morgan: 4-H Youth Development Agent — email@example.com
Pam Filtz: Administrative Associate — firstname.lastname@example.org
UT Extension provides real-life solutions throughout Tennessee. With an office in each of the state’s 95 counties, UT Extension helps Tennesseans to improve their quality of life and solve problems through the application of research and evidenced-based knowledge about agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H youth development, and community development.
UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. It is a statewide educational organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, that brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.