Dr. Ron Smith has been on the cutting edge of cotton entomology for 48 years, helping generations of farmers identify, understand and manage pests in Alabama’s estimated 15,000 cotton fields.
“Farmers are making decisions on each of those fields once a week for at least 12 weeks. That’s about 200,000 decisions on whether the cotton needs to be treated,” said Smith, 77, an Auburn University (AU) professor emeritus. “I hope to have an impact on each of those decisions.”
That commitment to serving farmers earned Smith the Duncan Award for Excellence in Production Agriculture & Forestry Extension. It’s the second year the Alabama Farmers Federation presented the award, which is named for former Alabama Extension Director Luther Duncan.
“I am honored,” Smith said. “This is the first time I’ve gotten an award from the people I’ve tried to help. That makes it most meaningful.”
Smith receives $5,000 toward developing solutions for stakeholder-identified problems. Federation Cotton Division Director Carla Hornady said Smith’s persistence helped keep cotton farmers in business through implementing the Boll Weevil Eradication Program and encouraging adoption of genetically modified cotton.
“Dr. Smith has dedicated his career to helping cotton farmers thrive,” Hornady said. “His work has spanned major issues, and he has always made himself available to farmers. We’re proud to recognize him for the way Alabama has tangibly benefited from his decades of work.”
Smith was raised on a small cotton farm near Moulton in Lawrence County. He holds a trio of degrees from AU — a B.S. in agriculture science, M.S. in agronomy and Ph.D. in entomology — and was hired as Alabama Extension entomologist in 1972.
Smith’s research has helped farmers battle an evolving series of tiny cotton pests that cause big problems. Takeaways focused on understanding insect movement and migrations and the importance of timely spray application, thus preventing yield loss. Recent research has helped create a thrips prediction model; improve management practices for the stink bug complex, including the new invasive brown marmorated species; and determine how new genetic traits best fit into the Alabama cotton production system.
While Smith’s career concentrated on cotton, he’s staunchly supported AU on the athletic field, too. He’s attended 57 consecutive Iron Bowl matchups and participated for 20 years in thrice-weekly noon basketball games with other faculty members.
Smith and his late wife, Linda, were married 54 years; he has five children and 10 grandchildren.
Though he officially retired in 2003, Smith continues to serve farmers as a contract Extension entomologist. He keeps producers informed through applied research, Extension publications, on-farm visits, tweets and his blog at alabama-insects.blogspot.com. Farmers can sign up for Smith’s timely pest alerts by texting “PESTPAT11” to 97063.
He’s also helping Dr. Scott Graham, AU’s new cotton, soybean and peanut entomologist, create farmer-Extension connections. Those relationships are essential, Smith said.
“When I started, I was helping growers,” he said. “Over 48 years, I became friends with those growers. Now I’m helping friends manage their cotton. What more rewarding job could there be?”