James Novak was raised on a farm in Wagner, South Dakota. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1974 and Master of Science degree (Resource Economics) in 1976 from the University of New Hampshire. He obtained his Ph.D. in Applied Economics from Clemson University in 1982.
Novak served with Extension in numerous locations from 1977 through 2013. His career covered the state of Alabama, the Coastal Bend in Texas, and the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina. Novak began as a Visiting Instructor in Agricultural Economics with the Clemson South Carolina Extension Service in 1977. He then worked as an Area Extension Economist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, now known as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, from 1981 through 1985. He spent the following two years as a Specialist-Microcomputer Applications, followed by two years split between serving as an Extension Specialist in Microcomputer Applications and Associate Professor, in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. From 1989-2004 he spent ¾ of his time as an Extension Economist, and ¼ of his time as a Professor in the Dept. of Ag. Econ and Rural Soc.
From 2004- 2005, in addition to serving as an Extension Economist, he served as Shared Faculty Washington D.C. CSREES-USDA, as an Ag Policy Program Leader for Federal Extension. He spent the balance of his career, from 2005-2013, with Auburn University, serving as an Extension Economist (ACES) and in Teaching/Research in the Dept. of Ag. Econ. and Rural Soc. He retired in 2013 as Professor Emeritus, Auburn University.
Novak says the best advice he received from his very first boss was, “do what’s right and don’t give in to pressure to special interests.” He had two notable mentors: Lynn Stanton with South Carolina Extension and Dan Smith with Clemson University. Both provided guidance and modeled what an Extension Specialist should be. Novak has firm beliefs about the purpose of Extension, “Extension is, and has always been, in my mind the business of education. Education has to be comprehensive. That’s why we have teams. Concentrating on a single commodity or program is not comprehensive. Farms are family and business. Education for the two must be inclusive.” Looking back over the technological advances since his career started, he notes “when I started, I educated all staff, agents and specialist on the IBM-PC with 5.25” floppy disks. Now the power in a cell phone makes that look like a horse and buggy.”
One of Novak’s proudest achievements was being part of a small team that persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass Section 133 of the Risk Management Protection Act of 2000 which provided $10 million per year to Extension to provide Risk Management Education for farmers nationwide. To the benefit of Alabama farmers, he was instrumental in obtaining approval for soybean crop insurance and AGR-Lite whole farm insurance. He also coordinated AGR-Lite approval for the states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and acted as regional coordinator for Risk Management Education for the southeast region. He also acted as part of a national team to educate farmers on recently passed farm bills. Novak received the R.J. Hildreth Award from the National Public Policy Education Committee and the Farm Foundation for policy education.
Novak has not been idle in retirement. He published a work of family historic fiction, Free Land in the Dakotas: A Cihak Family Story 1883-1947, available on Amazon. He and his wife tend horses and pets on 20 acres in Lee County. Their daughter is grown and married.