, 2014

Toulson returns to the farm—as an Extension agent

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

A fourth-generation farmer, Landre Toulson has gotten his hands dirty working the soil in Northumberland County, where he was born and raised. Toulson knows what it means to put in a long, hard day on the farm. But he also knows how farming has evolved—that it’s now as much about technology as back-breaking labor—and he wants to pass that knowledge on to young, aspiring farmers.

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Toulson is the new Lancaster/Northumberland Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, splitting time between the offices in Lancaster and Heathsville. He fills a position that’s been vacant for more than two years since former agent Matt Lewis resigned. Toulson’s first day on the job was March 25.

He spent the first two weeks renewing old friendships, making new aquaintances and familiarizing himself with his offices and responsibilities.

Toulson grew up in Wicomico Church where his parents, Vandy and Lucille, owned a farm. A 1995 graduate of Northumberland High School, he received his bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science and his master’s in vo-tech education with a special project in agriculture, both from Virginia State University.

He worked for Monsanto after graduation before coming home to Northumberland briefly to work on the family farm and help manage his dad’s trucking company. In 2004, Toulson founded Toulson Enterprises LLC trucking company in Sandston.

“But I always wanted to come back home and work,” said Toulson, who makes the 90-minute drive from Richmond to the Northern Neck every day. His wife, Jessica, drives to Hampton every day. Toulson is hoping the two will relocate to the Northern Neck soon.

For now, he seems happy to just be back here working, close to family and friends.

Toulson’s great-grandfather was a farmer and now his twin brothers, Eric and Derrick, manage his father’s farm.

“My father worked at the sheriff’s office when I was young and they put him on day shift,” said Toulson. “When I was about 14, he said I had to work on the farm. He bought me an old pickup truck and every morning I’d load it with [sacks] of beans and head out and plant them. I’d come back in for lunch and reload and do it again.

“It was hard work but it taught me a lot about responsibility and life,” said Toulson. “My father taught me that nobody is going to give you anything, except family. You have to work for it.”

Toulson would love to see more young people adopt the philosophies he learned and more seek careers in farming or on the water.

“I really want to start working with the high school kids,” said Toulson. “Since the schools don’t have agricultural programs anymore, I’d like to start an agriculture club.

“There’s really a bright future for farming in this area for kids,” he added.

Farming is now more technology-based, he said. Tractors are equipped with GPS devices that include grids of the field and it guides itself.

“You have to spin it differently to kids,” he said. “It’s not about getting out and slinging bean bags and getting dirty like it used to be. It has to be presented to kids as technology-based. There’s lots of IT involved.”

Some of his duties as extension agent will be helping farmers accept and understand emerging technologies, said Toulson.

He has a wish list of projects and on it are field days. He’d like to hold them on the football or athletic fields at area high schools. The all-day event would include instructional and educational booths.

“I’ve found homeowners are actually over-fertilizing their yards and there are serious environmental concerns,” he said. “It’s not only farmers polluting the waters, it’s homeowners. If you fertilize today and we get two inches of rain tomorrow, about 60% of that is going to end up in our bay, our rivers and our tributaries. We have to be smart.”

Although Toulson acts as both the Lancaster and Northumberland agent, he has spent most of his first few weeks in the Heathsville office.

Unfortunately, he said, the core group of farmers in Lancaster has decreased a lot. “But I’m going to be wherever I’m needed and I’ll base my schedule on need,” said Toulson.

“I’m no expert,” he added. “I don’t know all the answers, but I do have a lot of people at my disposal who are experts and I can get the questions answered.”

There are 110 field extension offices in Virginia. Extension agents assist residents with agriculture and natural resource issues, family and consumer concerns and 4-H and youth development.

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