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Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

December 20, 2013

Dr. Tom Troxel                                                                                Dr. Michael L. Looper

Happy Birthday Extension – 100 Years Old!

May 8, 2014, marks the 100-year anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the Smith-Lever Act establishing a nationwide network of Cooperative Extension Services connected to land grant universities such as the University of Arkansas.

The roots of U.S. agricultural extension, however, go back to the early years of our country. There were agricultural societies and clubs after the American Revolution, and in 1810 came the first “Farm Journal.” It survived for only two years, but in 1819 John Stuart Skinner of Baltimore began publishing the “American Farmer.”

The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant universities to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions. Extension was formalized in 1914, with the Smith-Lever Act. It established the partnership between the agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide for cooperative agricultural extension work. At the heart of agricultural extension work, according to the act, was:

  • Developing practical applications of research findings.
  • Giving instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture.

Smith-Lever mandated that the federal government provide each state with funds based on a population-related formula.

Between 1950 and 1997, the number of farms in the U.S. declined dramatically—from 5.4 million to 1.9 million. Because the amount of farmland did not decrease as much as the number of farms, the remaining farms have a larger average acreage. During the same period, farm production increased from one farmer supporting the food needs of 15.5 persons in 1950 to one farmer supporting 100 persons in 1990. By 1997, one farmer supported the food needs of almost 140 U.S. citizens.

That increased productivity, despite the decline in farm numbers, resulted from increased mechanization, commercial fertilizers, new hybrid seeds, and other technologies. Extension played an important role in extending these new technologies to U.S. farmers and ranchers.


Here are a few facts and dates about the Extension Service:

  • The first consumer education network – now known as the Extension Homemakers Council – was formed in Mabelvale in Pulaski County, in 1912, to help families stretch their dollars.
  • In 1914, only 24 counties had county agents, and those few agents introduced Extension programs to an estimated 20,000 farm families. By 1939 there was at least one agent in every county, reaching 199,864 farm families
  • The years of the New Deal saw the Cooperative Extension Service work side by side with the Rural Electrification Administration to bring electrical power to rural Arkansas.
  • During World War II, the youthful members of 4-H produced more than 2.2 million quarts of canned foods, enough for 14,672 soldiers. In addition, Arkansas’ families relied on Extension advice to grow Victory Gardens and improve their quality of life during times of rationed essentials.
  • While many projects have changed with the times, the cornerstone values of 4-H remain the same. Youth still show livestock and cook, but are also learning to build robots, use GPS and network with peers nationally through the National 4-H Conference, Citizenship Washington Focus and the National 4-H Congress.
  • Field days, a mainstay of the farm demonstration method, have evolved into new forms such as the Arkansas Rice Expo, but it remains firmly rooted in teaching farmers better ways to grow their crops.
  • In 2013, the Master Gardener program celebrated its 25th anniversary. Its leaders look forward to building even better leadership programs, maintaining community landscape programs and educating the public about good gardening and lawn habits.
  • Extension’s LeadAR program was designed to give Arkansas farmers and other community leaders the skills to become effective leaders at the local, state and even national level. Graduates have gone on to serve in elected and other leadership posts across the state. In 2014, it too celebrates – with its 30th anniversary.
  • Extension’s Master Gardener program started in Arkansas in 1988. In exchange for receiving the best in horticulture training, these Master Gardeners give back volunteer time. In 2004, the more than 83,000 hours volunteered had an economic impact of more than $1.2 million.
  • The Arkansas Flower & Garden Show is in its third decade, started by Extension faculty to help homeowners learn more about their landscape and the larger environment. The show has grown since its beginning and attracts more than 10,000 people each year.

In Arkansas, Extension is accessible in all 75 counties and many of our extension resources can be found online at

Extension work in rural America helped make possible the American agricultural revolution, which dramatically increased farm productivity:

  • In 1945, it took up to 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres of land.
  • By 1987, it took just under 3 labor-hours to produce that same 100 bushels of corn on just over 1 acre.
  • In 2002, that same 100 bushels of corn were produced on less than 1 acre.

That increase in productivity has allowed fewer farmers to produce more food. Fewer than 2% of Americans farm for a living today, and only 17% of Americans now live in rural areas. Yet, the extension service still plays an important role in American life—rural, urban, and suburban.

Happy Birthday Extension and many more.

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