Ihad a hard time trying to decide on the best title to use on this article. I liked “What Are We Doing To Ourselves” or “If You Think The National Debt Is Going to Devastate Our Posterity, Read This.” I settled on the current title because to me it is the most correct and it is quite unusual for a government program to be so successful.
The program I am talking about is the college land grant and extension program legislated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 established land grant colleges, and the Smith- Lever Act of 1914 established the cooperative extension service in every county. These were established to help agricultural producers — through research and extension education — produce more for less.
What a success! This country has done so well that we are growing more for less and on fewer acres. In fact, our country has an obesity problem.
The catch is we have gone from a 98% political base with the population understanding where their food comes from, to a 15% political base with the majority of the population not knowing where their food comes from and really not even caring. Some folks in this country view agriculture as bad for the environment. It is amazing some of the things you can read that “educated” people have written.
Recently, I read a publication from the National Research Council. It was titled “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century.” The publication addressed the need, because of a growing world population, to continue to produce more for less. In fact, they indicated that producers and researchers need to pick up the pace because the growth of the world population food and fiber needs is increasing faster than production.
About the same time, I read an article in the Weed Science Society of America publication titled “The Battle to Build a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce.” The author of this article indicated that we are running out of researchers and agriculturists in general. The current work force is at or close to retirement age, and there is no one in the system to replace him or her. Young people are not interested in an agricultural career.
So let’s put this type of information into some kind of current context:
• How many of the legislators on the agricultural committees know and understand anything about agriculture?
• How many land grant college presidents and deans of agriculture have a good understanding of the needs of agriculture?
• When money gets tight, how many of these people understand the implications of inadequately funding their agricultural programs?
• How much help can agriculture expect from a population that has no idea where its food comes from and the implications of that food’s production?
Here are some of the things that I see happening. Nevada has removed its college of agriculture from the university system. Idaho is struggling to keep its experimental stations open. Oregon believes that because the local producers benefit from the research, they should pay 25% of the operating costs of that station. (Remember that producers are already contributing money to the scientists doing the research.)
This is not just a Northwest issue. I know there are various other states struggling with these same issues. Are these actions sustainable? My concern is that they are not. I feel that there is a need for every member of an agricultural group or organization to be more politically involved. The squeaky wheel gets the attention. The leadership of these organizations has always carried the load, but they are no longer enough. Education of the public, of legislators, of college presidents and deans of agriculture is the only way to turn the current trends around.
We all must be more involved. The story needs to be told. The current political atmosphere in this country is not directed to a sustainable agriculture in the 21st century. Somehow that needs to change.
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Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower