August 26, 2005 | By: Terri McLean
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Tucked away in Eastern Europe lies Serbia and Montenegro, a country with a rich agricultural heritage much like the one Kentuckians have long enjoyed. It is similar in size and terrain as well. And, like Kentucky, it is striving to bring diversity to a more traditional agriculture base.

So when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service decided to help the country formerly known as Yugoslavia “grow” its rural economy, it only made sense to look to Kentucky for a helping hand. Specifically, it looked to the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture and Mike Reed, director of International Programs for Agriculture.

“I think Serbian farm culture will be a little bit similar,” said Reed, who spearheads a cooperative agreement between the college and the USDA to help the fledgling country develop an outreach and education service similar to UK’s Cooperative Extension Service. “Farmers are similar throughout the world. They might not use the same technologies, but they do have the same mindset.” 

As part of the agreement, the USDA awarded an $80,000 grant to Reed and the college in June. They will use the money, in part, to develop a training program for potential extension personnel in Serbia and Montenegro in January.

“The people may be animal scientists; they won’t be economically trained people,” Reed said. “The budget constraints are so severe in Serbia they won’t be able to train and hire new people that are economic specialists.”

After a visit in July to talk to officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and citizens throughout the country, Reed and a USDA representative determined the focus of their efforts will be on agritourism, value-added products and new enterprises – subjects Kentucky farmers are quite familiar with as they search for alternatives to tobacco.

To aid in the training, Reed envisions one of the state’s experienced county agents going with him. 

“I would prefer it to be a county agent to go over because those are the people who have experience sitting down with community leaders and business people and working with them one-on-one,” he said. “The people that are going to be involved in the training in Serbia are practitioners. They need to hear from practitioners.”

In Kentucky, county agents serve as a link between the citizens of their counties and the specialists, faculty and researchers at UK. Likewise, Reed wants to see Serbia and Montenegro develop an extension service that will provide a link between the experts and the citizens of their country – many of whom are facing not only challenges in agriculture but in most other areas of their lives.

“Serbian people are lovely people, but they’re very poor,” said Reed, citing nearly 10 years of civil war, NATO-led bombing, inflation and government turmoil. 

Reed expects the people of Serbia and Montenegro to be receptive to their Kentucky counterparts and the help they can provide. The country is struggling to regain the agricultural dominance – particularly in row crops – that it once had in Eastern Europe. 

“Serbia has been left trying to adjust and trying to promote an agriculture that’s been left behind,” he said. 

The people of Serbia and Montenegro won’t be the only benefactors of the cooperative agreement between the USDA and the UK College of Agriculture. 

“It’s a two-way street of benefits,” Reed said. “Hopefully, the people we are going to visit or who are visiting here are going to benefit. And certainly we are benefiting.”

Contact: 

Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Mike Reed, 859-257-7259