Ball received his B.S. in Agriculture and Biology from Western Kentucky University and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Agronomy from Auburn University.
Ball served 35 years as an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with statewide responsibility, working in all 67 Alabama counties, as requested by County Agents.
Ball worked on his family farm growing up and worked as a student trainee for the Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) for two summers as an undergraduate student, and after graduation spent three years in the U.S. Army. He later worked as a Research Associate the entire time he was in graduate school. Extension seemed a natural career for Ball, “I like practical agriculture, I enjoy interacting with people, and I get great fulfillment from knowing that I have helped people. Also, I like having a job in which no two days are alike.”
In addition to valuable advice and assistance he received from his parents and wife, Ball credits Dr. Louie Chapman, the former Extension cotton specialist with Auburn University, as someone who helped him to “get off on the right foot” at the start of his career.
The advice that Ball would like to share with someone just starting a career with Extension is comprehensive:
Ball is proudest of the book he co-authored with two colleagues from other universities, Southern Forages, which proved to be an important contribution to forage-livestock production. The single biggest development in his specialist discipline was the discovery that a fungus (endophyte) was usually present inside of tall fescue plants. There were many millions of acres of tall fescue in the United States at the time this discovery occurred. It was of immense importance because the fungus produces toxins that hurt animal performance, but also produces compounds that allow tall fescue to be more stress tolerant than it otherwise would be.
Ball was challenged by serving as President of the Alabama Extension Specialist’s Association at the time Extension Specialists were integrated into the Academic Rank and Tenure system at Auburn University. Ball notes that he and other officers of that organization spent countless hours working to try to ensure that Extension Specialists would be treated fairly. Ball notes, “It turned out well for most of us, but when my term as President ended, I felt like a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders.”
Following retirement from Extension, Ball continues to do professional agronomic work. Ball serves as a consultant to the Oregon Forage Seed Commissions (Clover, Ryegrass, Orchardgrass, and Tall Fescue) and serves as an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. Ball and his wife, Vonda, have two children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and five grandchildren, all of whom live near Birmingham.