On May 8 farmers, ranchers and rural families will celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Cooperative Extension Service.
For a century, this partnership between federal, state and local governments has provided the conduit that has delivered to the field the latest agricultural techniques, technology and expertise.
Really great ideas are rare in Washington, but the legislation creating the service was the last of three visionary measures that profoundly changed American agriculture.
Abraham Lincoln in 1862 signed the Morrill Act, creating the nation’s land-grant universities primarily for the teaching of agriculture and engineering.
The Hatch Act of 1887 established agricultural experiment stations to develop new techniques.
But in an age before the Internet and other mass communications, when farms and farmers were isolated, there was no easy way to disseminate the product of the research conducted by the ag schools and the experiment stations.
The Smith-Lever Act, signed in 1914, provided the solution. It created the Cooperative Extension Service, funded in partnership by the USDA, the states and county governments.
The service became an “extension” of the educational institutions, delivering the product of their research directly to the field through an army of agents and experts. Over the years the service’s mission expanded to include programs for homemakers, youth and rural development.
The service played an invaluable role in making science-based agricultural practices the standard on most farms across the country, increasing productivity and profitability. It has made American agriculture the envy of the world.
We offer the professionals of the Cooperative Extension Service a well-earned round of applause.
At the same time, we encourage the continued political and financial support of its mission, The work is just as vital today as it was 100 years ago.