Gates County ag agent earns national award

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Paul Smith recently received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of County Agriculture Agents during the 2022 annual meeting and Professional Improvement Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.

NACAA is a nationwide professional Extension organization geared toward Extension Educators/Agents and other professionals who work in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and natural resources, 4-H youth development, community development, and related disciplines. The award is conferred on members who have worked in Extension for at least 10 years, are held in high esteem by their fellow workers, and have developed and put into effect an outstanding Extension program which includes carrying to completion constructive and outstanding work.

Smith was one of several honorees who represent the top two percent of the membership selected by their peers.

Smith grew up in rural northeastern North Carolina. As a native of Perquimans County, he attended NC State University in the 1960s and upon graduation returned to his hometown of Winfall to farm and raise his family. In May of 1999 he started his career as the Agriculture Extension Agent in Gates County.

Coming from a farming background, Smith is intimately familiar with the challenges and opportunities that farmers face. This allowed him to build a relationship of trust and confidence with Gates County farmers. They trust that he will get them answers to difficult questions and keep them abreast of updates from the university.

In addition to his traditional Ag Agent responsibilities of pesticide certifications, crop production meetings, on farm test plots and variety trials, Smith is a passionate advocate for agriculture. He looks for nontraditional avenues of youth programming and community outreach.

Although Gates County is one of the most rural counties in the state, it is bedroom community for people who work in Virginia. Smith realized early in his career with NC Cooperative Extension that there is a huge disconnect between the people that live in this rural area, surrounded by fields that grow soybeans, cotton, corn, wheat and peanuts, and an understanding of where their food and fiber come from. He collaborated with teachers, farmers, commodity groups and other ag industry partners to create a variety of programs for youth and adults. These types of programs are critical for helping future leaders understand the importance of agriculture to Gates County’s economy as well as that of North Carolina and the United States.