‘In touch but not in the way,’ Justin Dufour is a resource for central Louisiana farmers

(02/27/24) MANSURA, La. — When he first enrolled in college, Justin Dufour thought he wanted to become an athletic trainer. But a few classes into his coursework at LSU Alexandria, he realized that career path wouldn’t suit his interests very well.

Ultimately, it was Dufour’s part-time job at the neighboring LSU AgCenter research station that helped him settle on a degree in biology and led him to a career in agriculture. Working under scientists at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center, Dufour learned the ins and outs of conducting agricultural research and sharing information with farmers.

Dufour grew up in what he calls “sweet potato country” in the Avoyelles Parish village of Hessmer.

“But I didn’t come from a family farm or anything like that,” he said. “My experience at Dean Lee really opened my eyes to what agriculture was and the fundamentals of research and how important it was.”

After graduating from LSUA, Dufour worked as a research associate at Dean Lee for a few months before becoming an AgCenter agriculture and natural resources agent based in his home parish of Avoyelles in 2014 — a role he still holds today, and one in which coworkers say he has excelled.

Dufour recently received the County Agent Award from the Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association. It was presented during the organization’s annual Louisiana Agricultural Technology and Management Conference Feb. 7 to 9 in Marksville.

“I would characterize Justin as a hard worker with a servant’s heart,” said Boyd Padgett, an AgCenter plant pathologist who nominated Dufour for the award and mentored him early in his career. “His focus is on improving Louisiana agriculture and the lives of our stakeholders.”

What does it take to be a good extension agent? Being knowledgeable of the eight different crops along with the cattle, crawfish and honey that are produced in his three-parish area is part of the equation. So is adapting to changes, such as a decline in sweet potato and cotton acres and growers shifting to other commodities.

At the end of the day, the job is all about communication, Dufour said.

“Relationships are everything in this industry,” he said.

He has a motto for his approach: “in touch but not in the way.”

“You don’t want to bother them because they have a lot going on, but you also want to let them know that you’re there to help,” he said.

In addition to Avoyelles Parish, Dufour also is the ANR agent for Grant and Rapides parishes.

“We have a lot going on,” Dufour said. “Whenever I make a presentation about myself, I always call this area a playground for me because there’s any and everything you want to see.”

It takes effort to build connections with so many different groups — and Dufour has demonstrated “110% buy-in,” said Tara Smith, director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

“Extension is grounded in relationships, and successful relationships are grounded in trust,” said Smith, who first got to know Dufour in her previous positions as a sweet potato specialist and regional director. “An agent being able to earn the trust of the clientele that they’re serving helps us effectively disseminate information and execute our mission to help producers be sustainable and profitable.”

When farmers, consultants and others call for advice, Dufour usually has the information they need. It’s his job to be a resource for constituents, pointing them to growing practices backed by AgCenter research and handling inquiries about issues being encountered in the field.

Being an agent in a region with such a diverse mix of crops and cultures, however, requires a touch of humility.

“You’re not going to know everything,” Dufour said. “But you need to know the resources to find out the answer.”

It helps to be a fast learner — another quality Dufour’s colleagues admire in him.

“If he calls you with a question, he doesn’t have to ask that question again,” said Daniel Stephenson, director of the AgCenter Central Region and a weed scientist at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center.

Stephenson hired Dufour as a student worker in 2009.

“I recognized pretty quickly that Justin had a good head on him,” Stephenson said. “If my research associate was out, I could rely on Justin to get things done, and that is uber rare. A person with that attention to detail and desire to learn is exceptional — and it’s one of the reasons we encouraged him to get his master’s.”

Dufour earned a master’s degree in agronomy and crop science from LSU in 2019.

He said it was an honor to receive the County Agent Award.

“Working with commercial producers and knowing that’s their livelihood and how dependent they are on information from the AgCenter, I take pride in being able to do anything I can to help them,” he said.

Two men look at plants they are holding in their hands.

Avoyelles Parish farmer Fred Collins, left, and LSU AgCenter agent Justin Dufour look for Hessian fly pupae in wheat. Photo by Olivia McClure

Two men holding an award plaque.

LSU AgCenter agent Justin Dufour, right, recently received the Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association’s County Agent Award. He’s pictured with AgCenter plant pathologist Boyd Padgett, who nominated him for the award. Photo provided by Tara Smith

5/28/2024 1:57:35 PM
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