EXTENSION SERVICES. Extension services extend information to users—farmers, growers, and homeowners. The Cooperative Extension Service (CES) is a publicly funded research and education network linking the resources of federal (U.S. Department of Agriculture), state (land-grant universities), and local (county) governments. The common mission—helping people to solve the problems that affect residents in U.S. communities—remains unchanged since its beginnings in the late 1800s.
Early in our government's development, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson advocated a national agency for teaching the agricultural sciences. Many years later, CES evolved from the needs of rural people for local education in agriculture, business, and home economics. In the 1800s, farmers needed help solving problems such as controlling insects or soil erosion or applying the right amount of manure to crops. Nonfarmers needed an education in business and trade. Housewives needed information on family nutrition and food preservation. In response, the Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the establishment of at least one college in each state. Under this act, many states established colleges of agriculture whose objective was to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts without excluding the classical studies.
In 1887, the Hatch Act established an agricultural experiment station at each land-grant college as well as a system of cooperative funding between the USDA and land-grant institutions. As a result, scientists and educators at experiment stations conducted research, published the results, and disseminated information to farmers. Several years later, in 1890, the second Morrill Act extended the land-grant provisions to the sixteen southern states and ultimately led to the establishment of land-grant universities for black students.
Seaman A. Knapp (1833–1911), a former professor of agriculture in Iowa, is credited with starting the agricultural demonstration method around the turn of the century. He conducted farm demonstration work in Louisiana and then served in the Department of Agriculture as a special agent to promote better methods of farming in the South. His work led to the development of the Farmers Cooperative Demonstration Work division, which he headed. The demonstration method proved effective and was copied by CES personnel throughout the country; it remains an important CES tool today.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the CES as we know it today—a partnership among federal, state, and local governments. Land-grant colleges and the USDA were directed "to work together to provide for the practical and liberal higher education of all Americans," reaching out to teach agriculture and home economics both in and outside of colleges. In 1925, the Purnell Act added agricultural economics, rural sociology, and home economics to the experiment stations' mission. The Extension Indian Reservation Program (EIRP) was authorized by the 1990 Farm Bill, and provided for the establishment of extension education programs on Indian reservations and in tribal jurisdictions.
Some states were early in recognizing the need for agricultural education. In 1857, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was founded. The Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station at Michigan State University, founded in 1888, was among the first stations created. The first county agricultural agent in New York State was hired in 1911 with funds provided by a Chamber of Commerce, a railroad, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New York was one of several states that went one step further, and by state legislation, created a partnership between the State Extension Service and the state itself. Alaska established its first experiment station in 1900.
The Cooperative Extension Service has kept pace with the farmer's search for ways to remain economically and environmentally viable. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program works to increase knowledge about—and help farmers and ranchers adopt—sustainable agriculture. To advance such knowledge nationwide, SARE administers competitive grants for research, education, and professional development. In other areas, CES offers programs to help children and their families cope with disasters and develop an emergency preparedness plan.
To contact a Cooperative Extension Service locally, check the government listing in your telephone directory for Cooperative Extension Service, or look under "Agri culture." Information about national programs can be obtained from the following address:
The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Stop 2201
Washington, DC 20250-2201
Buswell, Arthur S. Evolution of the Cooperative Extension Service in Alaska. University of Alaska. Available at http://www.uaf.edu/coop-ext/esp/history.html
A History of American Agriculture 1776–1990. Agricultural Education and Extension. USDA Economic Research Service. Available at http://www.usda.gov/history2/text10.htm
Graham, Donna L. "Cooperative Extension System." Encyclopedia of Agricultural Science 1 (1994): 415-430. Available at http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agexed/aee501/extension.html
St. Clair, Charles. "The History and Philosophy of Extension." Impact. A Council Development Project. Leaflet No. 9. Outreach & Extension. University of Missouri Lincoln University. Available at http://outreach.missouri.edu/extcouncil/Impacts/9.htm
Patricia S. Michalak