New Jersey Ag News
Name your land grant university (Editorial)
The land grant university system in this country, which laid the foundation for the USDA’s Cooperative Extension Service, was created by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. Upon passage of the 1862 legislation — exactly 150 years ago — Iowa was the first state legislature to accept the provisions of the act, on Sept. 11, 1862.
And Iowa subsequently designated the State Agricultural College — now Iowa State University — as the land grant college on March 29, 1864.
Leap forward into the present time.
An Extension ag agent stands on a stage on that very campus, in Ames, Iowa, about to address a gathering of some 250 Midwest farmers, most from Iowa but also from Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. All are engaged in the production of aronia, a crop of interest to him and in which he has done research.
Before launching his talk, the agent, who cares deeply about the role of Extension in American life and culture, asked his audience: “How many of you know the name of your land grant university?’
“Only about 25 percent raised their hands,” he recalled, “I was shocked.’
These were not eighth graders in a school in Minneapolis. These were farmers, farmers from across the Corn Belt, farmers who may have attended the land grant university in their home state unaware of its land grant heritage and probably unknowledgeable of the land grant university system itself.
So what does that mean? What are the implications of the fact that 75, perhaps 80, percent of the farmers in that Iowa State auditorium were ignorant of a baseline in the agricultural history of this nation?
The implications are culturally enormous, reflecting the changing face of agriculture.
The mission of the land-grant universities was expanded by the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided federal funds to states to establish a series ofagricultural experiment stations under the direction of each state’s land-grant college.
The outreach mission was further expanded by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 to include Cooperative Extension — the sending of agents into rural areas to help bring the results of agricultural research to the end users.
Now, as America moves farther away, generation by generation, from its agricultural heritage, the awareness, the familiarity of the land grant mission fades in the American psyche.
At land grant universities, it would appear, there is a far greater awareness of the win-loss record of the football team than the number of acres under research at the university’s network of ag experiment stations.
Funding for Extension Services wilts in the face of the national budget crisis. The structure of Extension in the states is recast.
Gone is the traditional county ag agent, celebrated by artist Norman Rockwell in a famous painting. The county ag agent is replaced by the regional Extension educator assigned to several counties and often aided by a specialist stationed on the land grant university campus.
Farmers hire scouts and crop consultants. Got a question? Google it. We lament this.
What Cooperative Extension, via the land grant universities, offers this nation cannot be Googled? It was designed to be personal, social, often one-on-one. It is, by all accounts, the largest ag research and educational network ever created, offering a totally independent and unaligned source of agricultural knowledge and service.
Farmers may not realize it at the moment but they will miss it, that’s for sure, if and when it’s gone.