Ronald H. “Ron” Smith began his career with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in April 1972 as a cotton entomologist. After 31 years of official service, he retired in 2003 but continues his Extension responsibilities on an annual contract basis.
Smith received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, a master’s in agronomy and a Ph.D. in entomology, all from Auburn University. Smith knew that he wanted to start a career in Extension at a young age. After receiving his master’s degree he worked with the USDA with the Soil Conservation Service in Limestone County.
His mentors during his career were Roy Ledbetter, his predecessor as cotton entomologist, and Frank McQueen, Extension survey entomologist.
“My proudest work accomplishment has been that I have been able to adapt to changes in Extension organization, program delivery methods (blogs, tweets), insect pests and technology (chemicals and genetics),” says Smith.
Smith’s career began during the era of DDT, progressed through the eradication of the primary pest (boll weevil) and the introduction of genetic traits that control insects. “I am currently conducting research with companies on traits that will not be available to farmers for another three to five years,” he says.
His greatest challenge faced was the decade from 1986 to 1995, during which time the boll weevil eradication program was ongoing within Alabama. Smith says the biggest challenge facing Extension today is the lack of funding to deliver the basic programs that Alabamians expect from the organization.
“The most significant or technological advance in my career has been the elimination of the key pest for almost 90 years—the boll weevil—and the introduction of genetically altered crops,” Smith said.
In January of 2018, at the National Beltwide Cotton Conference in San Antonio, Texas, Smith was presented the “Award for Excellence in Integrated Pest Management.” This award is given to one cotton entomologist each year and could be considered as the “Heisman trophy” for cotton entomologists.
“Extension is the greatest and most rewarding career one could ever choose,” said Smith. “That is because our job is to help our clientele in whatever program area you are working in. After 47 years, I am not burned out or ready to re-retire,” Smith says.
Smith has worked his entire life from the age of five, working on his family’s cotton farm in Lawrence County. “Extension has allowed me to do and accomplish things that have made my career the most rewarding I could have dreamed of,” he says.
Smith and his late wife Linda have five children.