Bryon Parman was a Nebraska farm kid who had seen the ocean only once when he joined the U.S. Navy.
Now, after spending six years as a Navy search-and-rescue swimmer, earning his doctorate in agricultural economics at Kansas State University and serving as an ag economist at Mississippi State University, he's returning to the Midwest to work with farmers, ranchers, and other agriculturalists.
Parman is the new farm management specialist with North Dakota State University Extension, a position once held by Dwight Aakre, who retired in 2016 after 32 years in the post.
"The position description almost read like my resume. The location is where we wanted to go, and a position that fit me very well," he says.
Though refilling the position was a priority, it was kept open temporarily because of budget constraints, says Chris Boerboom, NDSU Extension director, noting that the position has been modified to place more emphasis on ag finance.
"We're really pleased that we were eventually able to open the position and recruit a highly qualified and experienced specialist in Dr. Parman. He will be great for North Dakota," Boerboom says.
Parman, 36, grew up on a 7,000-acre family farm in southwest Nebraska. During the tough agricultural times in the 1980s, his family sold its cattle herd, using the money to pay down debt.
"We figured the cow herd would be easier to replace than land (if they had sold that instead)," Parman said.
With the cows gone, "We relied on the hog income - we raised them back then - to live on. Hogs kept the farm afloat for the better part of 10 years," Parman says. "I wasn't very old, but I remember that."
As for his service in the Navy, "I knew how to swim, I'd taken swimming classes as a kid. And I suppose I was just too stubborn to quit search-and-rescue school," Parman says.
After the Navy, he returned to pursue higher education, eventually earning his doctorate and then landing a position at Mississippi State University, spending 4½ years with the extension service and teaching ag finance and farm management.
Parman says he enjoyed his time in Mississippi, but that he and his wife, Sara, also a Nebraska native, wanted to be in the Plains states with their sons, now three and one years old.
Parman will be working with lenders and others involved in ag business, as well as farmers and ranchers.
"Relations between ag producers and lenders is absolutely crucial. There's a symbiotic relationship, in the scientific sense," Parman says.
"Sometimes I tell farmers and lenders things they don't want to hear. One of the jobs of extension is to tell folks what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear," Parman says. "Sometimes they're the same, sometimes they're not."
With agriculture overall confronted with limited profitability, "There's definitely a role for extension. We have some folks facing tough times, and our role is to help pull as many folks as we can through to the other side," Parman says.
"It's people's livelihoods and real money at stake," he says.