Published on 04/19/18

Sustainable agriculture advocate honored with University of Georgia Walter Barnard Hill Award for Distinguished Achievement in Public Service and Outreach

By Merritt Melancon

For the past 19 years, Julia Gaskin has worked to prove that conservation tillage and cover crops don’t have to be dirty words when it comes to conventional farming. 

Through her work with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and Georgia Organics, Gaskin has worked with farmers to incorporate methods associated with organic agriculture into traditional farming practices. 

This year, Gaskin, who serves as sustainable agriculture coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), received the Walter Barnard Hill Award for Distinguished Achievement in Public Service and Outreach on April 16 at the UGA Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach’s 27th annual Public Service and Outreach Meeting and Awards Luncheon.

The annual award for public service and outreach work recognizes the contributions of UGA public service faculty to the “improvement of the quality of life in Georgia” and beyond.

"Julia has been persistent in helping farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates understand that traditional and sustainable production systems aren't mutually exclusive. Both aim to produce maximum food and fiber with minimal environmental impact," said CAES Dean and Director Sam Pardue.

"All farmers can benefit from the conservation practices that Julia teaches across the state, whether they run a 1,000-acre cotton farm or small organic vegetable operation. She focuses on practices that improve soil, reduce irrigation and reduce the need for additional fertilizer and those are good practices for Georgia's ecosystem and for farmers' businesses. That dogged pragmatism has made her an invaluable asset to Georgia's agricultural community." 

Gaskin has worked tirelessly to make conservation-farming practices more mainstream in traditional Georgia row-crop farming systems. In doing so, she’s earned a reputation as a pragmatic and service-oriented advocate for sustainable agriculture and farmers.

She developed a Cover Crop Nitrogen Availability Calculator that allows farmers to incorporate cover crops with traditional fertilizer requirement calculations, simplifying the implementation of conservation-minded practices into traditional farming. 

“Building bridges is not always easy when people don’t see eye-to-eye, and it can be a lonely job,” wrote Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics, when Gaskin was awarded a CAES D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Extension in 2017. “But Julia did just that through focused perseverance and a genuine commitment to our soils and the livelihood of our farming community.” 

Gaskin has been awarded over $1.5 million in grant funds to support research and extension in sustainable agriculture. The Beginning Farmer Rancher Development grant, in partnership with Georgia Organics and Fort Valley State University, helps new farmers develop profitable and sustainable operations.

Gaskin led the charge to equip county Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension agents across the state with the tools they need to help the growing number of organic and Certified Naturally Grown farmers working in Georgia. Through workshops, Extension bulletins, and the website, Gaskin raised the profile and strengthened UGA Extension’s Sustainable and Organic Production Team, which includes entomologists, plant pathologists, agronomists, animal scientists and plant breeders.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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