Retired ag teacher’s influence far-reaching
ALLISONIA, Va. — Some people travel the world seeking to make a difference. Others stay at home and reach far beyond geographical boundaries. This is the case of Michael W. “Mike” Cox.
Cox estimates he taught 3,000 high school students in his agri-science classes at Pulaski County High School in his 30 years he there. In that position, he became known across the nation as he led his students and participated in professional groups. He also developed a growing beef cattle operation that keeps him busy in retirement.
Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently recognized Cox’s efforts with its 2019 Distinguished Alumni in Academia Award. This was given for his teaching of agriculture, leadership and community education.
“Mike has had a distinguished career in public education as a teacher at Pulaski County High School for 30 years,” said Zeke Barlow, CALS spokesman, said. “He has been a loyal and dedicated supporter of the department by helping to prepare future agricultural teachers, having supervised 28 student teachers!”
Cliff View Farm is located beside Big Reed Island Creek in Pulaski County. An amazing limestone cliff rises from the tributary of New River, tracing the path the water has taken through the ages.
Cox served as president of the school’s FFA chapter in 1972, the year he graduated. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture Education in 1976. He joined the faculty at the new consolidated PCHS in 1978 and led a program that went beyond traditional agriculture classes. It included horticulture, forestry, farm business management and wildlife management.
A specialization in his program was shop classes that included welding equipment, metal fabrication and metal care. The staff grew to four teachers and numerous student teachers. Cox said in his career he mentored 29 student teachers, more than any other ag teacher in Virginia, one of his accomplishments the CALS award cited.
On the state and national level, Cox served as president of the Virginia Agriculture Educators Association and went on to become president of the National Agriculture Education Association.
Leading his students in FFA was an important part of Cox’s work at PCHS and one that opened the door to his influence far beyond Pulaski County. He served on the National FFA Board of Directors and the National FFA Board of Trustees. He has served as vice president of the National Council for Agriculture Education and remains active in this think tank for agriculture education.
He has been active in the Southwest Virginia Agriculture Association, representing Pulaski County, and has served as its president. He is a member and past president of the Pulaski County Farm Bureau.
With all this going on Cox managed to start his commercial cow/calf herd in 1984 when he purchased 41 acres and a house. He said he has kept buying cattle and buying and renting land. He inherited his uncle Shirley and Aunt Dovie Cox’s farm where he worked since age 12 and now lives in their home. He now farms about 500 acres at two locations and runs 160 cow/calf pairs. They are divided into two herds on the two farms.
He said his cows are predominately Simmi-Angus, he reported. He weans his cattle in the fall and sells his calves in the Virginia Quality Assurance Sales. He has also tried other alternative marketing.
Cox buys his bulls from the Southwest Virginia BCIA test station and by private treaty. Most of his cows are replacements from his own herd but he has bought a few.
Cox said he gets a lot of satisfaction from his forage program. In 1992 he implemented an intensive rotational grazing system on one of his farms and has since developed it on both farms. The pastures consist of traditional Southwest Virginia grasses. He said his cattle are moved to new grass each day. He stockpiles 50 acres of fescue on one farm and aims for 300 days without feeding hay. This approach is made easier by the fact the farms are two miles apart.
Cox worked with USDA’s Natural Recourse and Conservation Service in developing his grazing system. He expressed his gratitude to those who helped him with this effort.
Keeping the environment safe for wildlife is important to Cox as well. He said he wants wildlife to be as happy as his cattle on his farm.