By Stephen Smoot
Some men measure their impact on others in years. Others think in terms of contributions over decades.
Recently retired as the county’s WVU Extension Agent, David Seymour might best measure his influence on the region’s farming and youth agriculture education in generations, considering his impact on families through the years. He described the privilege of working with “three generations of farm families. The most rewarding thing is getting to deal with grandfathers, fathers, sons, and women in the family too.”
Steve Conrad, president of the Pendleton County Farm Bureau rated him as “the best county agent in the state and had tremendous impact in sheep and cattle as well.”
Seymour has served state farmers and agriculture education since the middle of the Carter Administration. He spent his first two years in Barbour County teaching agriculture, then moved to Pendleton County to serve in numerous capacities for 44 years. His tenure of service included 14 ½ years teaching at Franklin High School, then nearly three decades as WVU Extension Agent.
His wife, Barbara, noted that “to me, Dave’s career is more of a ministry. He never says no to helping anyone with anything.” This has included helping farmers with crops, teaching homeowners about insects and gardening, and putting together an infrastructure to best market local cattle.
For Seymour, however, the biggest passion lies in “working for the youth, helping everyone advance themselves in agriculture.” He added, “I’ve seen people like John McCoy go from 14 years old to 50 years and older.”
McCoy, a Pendleton County farmer, remembered that when he first met Seymour, “I was an active kid with ADD, pretty hyper and a little out of control.” He explained that one summer, his parents bought him some sheep as a project and added, “My parents tried hard to help, but were not active in agriculture at the time.”
“The first time I met him,” McCoy said, “was at the fair. Mom and I were there together and we had no idea.” At the time, Seymour was the high school FFA advisor and McCoy was still in elementary school. He noted that “he had no duty to help me,” but asked “hey, do you guys need any help?”
Despite sheep not falling within his expertise at the time, he told McCoy “we’ll figure it out together” and spent two hours assisting the project. “He didn’t have to do that,” McCoy remembered, “but he was all in.” He also described Seymour as having a gift in engaging shy children and getting them to be more outspoken and involved.
Seymour also understood that travel could create life changing experiences for Pendleton County youth, organizing trips for the FFA and 4H to places like Kansas City and Louisville. He said, “I’ve seen our kids go from no electronics to now when we’re doing farming by GPS.” McCoy described how he organized similar trips for older farmers to Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa so they could see and learn information and techniques used elsewhere. He said, “he was always good at getting people to see things, have new experiences, and look at the world differently.”
“He probably influenced some of the older students and farmers to do things better than they had in the past,” Carl Hevener explained, “including new technology, field trials, and different ways of doing things than their grandparents had done.” He also teamed with Carole Hartman to preserve Thorn Spring Park.
McCoy credits Seymour for bringing millions of additional dollars to the county’s cattle industry through organizing calf pulls, beginning in 1998. These events bring larger numbers of producers and cattle together for more efficient marketing and sale. “He ramrodded it through,” McCoy said, then added, “he went way beyond to make sure it worked and did a lot of marketing.”
Marketing included hands-on efforts with producers, taking a van load of producers to the feed yards so they could learn more about the process and what they are working toward. Hevener estimated that the calf pull boosted “sales of the cattle anywhere from five to 20 cents, depending on the weight of the cattle compared to regular markets at the time.”
All farmers had a friend in Seymour, but particularly the smaller operations. McCoy said “he didn’t cherry pick, but made effort to help the little guy.” This included “going to bat for us, traveling to meetings and seminars for weeks and months” to speak against EPA overreach and fighting on behalf of those he believed in. As McCoy said, “a lot of stuff they were trying to promote would cripple people.”
Hevener remembered that when meeting with elected officials and others from the government, “Dave used politically correct terms when other farmers might use other terms.”
One of the great constants over time is change and Seymour sees the need for area farmers to adapt when needed. “The cost of agriculture is really going up,” he says “and the cost of the food supply is passed on to the consumer.” According to Seymour, while most national statistics claim 8% nationally, for farmers the number lies between 20-25%.
“As prices rise,” he says, “small farms are more challenging to be profitable.” Seymour foresees that rising costs, plus the consolidation of meatpacking into a small number of megaproducers, will force change. That could come in smaller farmers looking for profitable niches to fill.
Seymour also added that “communities need to be more self-reliant” and that the agriculture industry should respond to rising fuel costs by shortening supply chains and selling regionally or locally. “We have no need to ship vegetables from California,” he notes.
“He’ll be hard to replace,” said Hevener, “someone’s got awfully big shoes to fill, whoever steps into his position.”
Barbara added that he has also filled the most important roles in his family life, saying “he has served God and community and been a wonderful father and husband.”
“Above it all, I got to be the one to share this extraordinary life with him. We are truly blessed.”