Farming Systems Support Projeot
International Programs Office of Agriculture and
Institute of Food and Office of Multisectoral Development
Agricultural Sciences Bureau for Science and Technology
University of Florida Agency for International Development
Gainesville, Florida 32611 Washington, D.C. 20523
AN OVERVIEW OF THE LAND GRANT SYSTEM
Steve Kearl and Van Crowder
University of Florida March 1984
AN OVERVIEW OF THE LANDGRANT SYSTEM AND IFAS
Providing cheap and abundant food is a goal all .nations share.
We succeed in the United States because our farmers have the
incentive to work hard and take risks
... they have control over their own land and resources ...
and the knowledge to use those resources productively.
The incentive is built into our political and economic system
we are blessed with land and water and climate ...
but gaining the knowledge is a struggle that never ends.
This is the story of how we do it.
The story begins more than a century ago when our nation was
less than a century old.
More than 50 percent of our population made a living from
The production methods the farmers used were different: land
So, when the soil in one area was exhausted of nutrients, the
farmers simply moved on.
As agriculture pushed onto out great prairies, men took more
land than they could farm efficiently.
American farmers came to the land with primitive tools and no
There were no schools for common men like farmers and
Scientific agriculture was unheard of.
We had universities, of course, many dating back to our
But these provided classical education for the sons of the
rich and privileged.
One didn't go there to learn a better plow design or how to
apply Mendel's great discoveries.
in genetics to the breeding of better crops or livestock.
In 1857, a U.S. Congressman named Justin Morrill proposed that
a new kind of college be established throughout the country
to provide agricultural and mechanical training.
Under the Morrill Act, passed in 1862,
federal land was given to each state. Money from the sale of
formed endowment funds for the new schools ... hence the name,
Land Grant Colleges.
But, it was soon obvious that something else was needed.
Something more than classroom teaching.
Agriculture isn't philosophy. Scholarly debate won't make the
crops grow or the animals thrive.
College training in agriculture must rest on a solid,
So, the 1887 Hatch Act provided money for agricultural
experiment stations at the land grant colleges
with the charge to "develop and communicate" useful
This gave a new dimension to the professor's role. For, in
addition to dispensing knowledge to eager students,
knowledge was created through applied research in the
laboratory and in the field.
It was soon apparent that no one, not even students, had more
need for "useful agricultural information" than farmers.
The growing demand for publications and field demonstrations
placed an increasingly heavy burden on the land grant teaching and
In response, Congress established the Agricultural Extension
in 1914 creating yet another role for the agricultural
Agricultural agents, as they were known, were assigned to each
They were teachers, but they found their classrooms on the farm
or in the rural meeting hall.
Through them, new research findings were applied season by
season, rather than generation by generation.
So the foundation was complete. The dream of practical
education for the worker and farmer had been realized.
Through research efforts in every state, agriculture was
becoming a science.
And, extension agents provided a vital link to every farmer and
Education ... research ... extension ... the American Land
When the University of Florida was established as the state's
land grant institution in the 1880's, Florida agriculture was
little more than a subsistence way of life ...
and agricultural resources seemed meager indeed. Then, as now,
most of our soil was sandy and infertile. The semi-tropical
climate of Florida favored pests and diseases more than crops or
Prospects for economic development and modernization were
unlikely at best. One startling comparison shows how agriculture
in Florida lagged behind the rest of the country.
By 1917 there were 34,000 tractors operating on farms in the
United States. In Florida there were only 71.
But, as the University's agricultural research and education
programs gained momentum, the potential for a productive,
competitive industry was discovered in the laboratories and
A few examples ... for many years, beef and dairy cattle in
some parts of the state suffered and died from mysterious
The problem slowed the growth of Florida livestock industries
for decades. In the early 1930s a university researcher
discovered the cause.
Important trace elements ... copper, iron and cobalt ... were
absent from the soil in many areas. So, they weren't in the diets
of grazing cattle.
Scientists solved the problem with mineral feed supplements.
Extension agents taught farmers and ranchers how to use them.
The result ... today's Florida dairy herds are the largest in
the nation and its beef industry exports about 750,000 feeder
calves each year.
Through a similar development, South Florida became the
country's winter vegetable garden.
In the 1920's and '30's, farmers were frustrated to find the
region's rich-looking muck soils no more fertile than the dry
sands of central Florida.
University of Florida scientists made the land productive with
trace amounts of copper, potassium and magnesium.
Today, fresh vegetables bring more farm income into the state
than any other crop ...
Of course Florida has come to be best known for its citrus
But just 35 years ago, citrus growers were in danger of
producing themselves out of business.
Orange crops were simply too large for the fresh fruit demand.
"For Sale" signs appeared in hundreds of groves.
The owners faced bankruptcy even though the trees were heavy
The industry was saved when University of Florida scientists
developed a process for taking part of the water out of orange
and then freezing the product for shipment and sale. Today
Florida is a major world producer of frozen orange juice
This product has led to year-round, world-wide markets for the
state's seasonal citrus crops.
Today, agriculture is Florida's number one production industry,
growing more different crops than most other states combined.
Research and extension programs have helped Florida farmers
adapt to an astonishing range of growing conditions.
Of course, farm production is just part of the picture.
Agriculture also includes support industries;
suppliers of feed, seed, chemicals and fertilizer ...
packaging and processing ...
marketing ... credit and insurance.
So, in addition to providing an important part of the nation's
food supply, Florida agriculture provides about 25 percent of all
the jobs in the state.
Agriculture is the key
to maximum productive use of Florida's human and natural
Maintaining this vast, complex agricultural industry is just as
great a challenge as building it was.
As population growth increases competitive for water
farmers need more efficient irrigation systems.
As chemical pesticides become more expensive, farmers
look for biological pest control methods and new pest resistant
As conventional fuel prices rise,
it becomes imperative to develop alternative energy sources.
Florida agriculture continues to rely heavily on the research,
education and extension programs of the University of Florida.
Today, the University's land grant resources are organized as
the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences ...
known by the acronym "IFAS." IFAS employs scientists and
teachers in a seemingly endless list of fields
plant and animal sciences, entomology and nematology ...
economics ... food science and nutrition ...
forestry ... engineering ... microbiology and cell science ...
plant pathology ... soil science ... and many others.
A faculty of 400 conducts basic and applied research on the
production and marketing of more than 50 commodities.
One hundred and twenty university-based extension faculty
prepare educational programs to disseminate new information.
More than 300 county extension faculty conduct educational
programs specifically tailored to local needs.
And, almost 100 teaching faculty make up IFAS and the college
of agriculture the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
IFAS, is a multi-million dollar operation.
Because Florida has such a wide variety in crops, soils .and
climate, IFAS research is conducted at more than 20 off-campus
And, there are fully-staffed extension offices in each of the
state's 67 counties.
All of this means a tremendous investment in buildings, farm
equipment, scientific instruments and support personnel.
Here's another vital production tool used in IFAS operations
... one that's easy to take for granted.
To provide the current reference material scientists and
students need, the university library spends about $2 million a
year on new books.
IFAS libraries have 135,000 volumes on agricultural and related
scientific subjects ...
and hundreds of periodicals in which the very latest research
findings are published.
There's only one reason that public resources of this magnitude
can be committed to the support of IFAS programs ... the
investment pays off ... year after year.
Recent research with potato production shows how valuable a
single new discovery can be.
By improving soil testing procedures IFAS scientists have made
it possible for farmers to accurately measure the amount of
phosphorus in their soil.
If there's already enough to produce good yields, they don't
have to add any more.
This reduces production costs by about $60 an acre, or
$150/hectare, and saves Florida potato farmers about half a
million dollars a year.
An extension program in North Florida has increased farm income
by about $4 million a year in five rural counties.
County agents helped introduce farmers to a new high-yielding
soybeam variety, and as a result plantings have increased by more
than 50,000 acres or 20,000 hectares in only two years.
In this way extension agents significantly increase the value
of research results. Because they work directly with farmers in
they can present new technology in a way that's appropriate for
each social and economic setting. This makes adoption faster and
It's especially important in reaching small, limited-resource
farmers, who are often the last to benefit from agricultural
research and education programs.
Extension agents also provide important feedback to their
colleagues working in research ...
reporting on the adoption of new varieties or production
identifying farm problems for future study.
Of course, one cannot put a dollar value on the teaching
programs in the College of Agriculture. But the facts are clear:
none of this would be possible without a highly trained
Nearly 1,000 undergraduate students and more than 700 graduate
students are a part of IFAS at the University of Florida.
The training they receive, and their dedication in applying
that training, will ensure that Justin Morrill's dream remains a
here and around the world. IFAS The Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences is working today to prepare the scientists
and educators of tomorrow.