noted in Opportunities in the Nutrition and Food Sciences (National Research Council, 1994b),
The land grant colleges and universities (with their focus on agriculture, rural communities, and the needs of consumers) have been largely responsible for the growth of the nutrition and food sciences in the United States. Much of the research in these disciplines has been conducted in departments of animal science, food science, and nutrition in schools of agriculture and home economics. Increasingly, research on diet's role in chronic disease is conducted by scientists in medical schools and schools of public health. Fundamental nutrition research is now conducted as well in more general university and professional school departments.
Extension, to be effective and scientifically sound, must be able to access all of these nutritional and food sciences locations. Additionally, although the challenge is substantial, extension specialists in human nutrition could have an important role in promoting needed interdisciplinary efforts among the food and nutrition-related disciplines.
In the area of rural economic development, there is much work for extension to do. As documented in the Profile report (National Research Council, 1995a), off-farm income is the dominant income source for farm-operator households. Only 18 percent of farm-operator households received more on-farm income than off-farm income in 1991 (Gale and Harrington, 1993). The point is, today the rural economy underpins farming and its future opportunities as much or more than farming underpins the rural economy. Thus, the interests of the majority of farmers and of many rural communities remain closely intertwined.
The infrastructure needs of rural economies deserve a great deal of emphasis, including rural housing, communication systems, water and waste management, and access to health and educational facilities (Zuiches, 1994). Building the infrastructure is especially key to attracting and retaining private businesses and investment.
Human capital development is an especially important infrastructural need of rural areas, which extension can help fulfill. Rural areas are often human capital weak; they need well-educated individuals with leadership skills and the willingness to take on responsibilities in public posts often with very low pay. Information about and analyses of rural community tax policies and other public policies deserve emphasis by extension programs, too. Having access to such information and analyses improves the ability of rural policy makers and voters to make informed decisions about policy directions and changes that can enhance economic performance. It can also enhance the information base for private businesses considering locating in rural areas.
Despite these prominent needs in many rural areas, and their importance to the viability of a large number of U.S. farms, relatively few experiment station resources are devoted to social sciences generally or to rural sociology and rural economic development in particular. Additionally, the social sciences and their important contributions have not been emphasized by the competitive grants program for food and agricultural sciences, the USDA's National Research Initiative or, indeed, other federal research grants programs.
The committee concludes extension has an important current and future role, although not necessarily the lead role, in serving urban and suburban clientele and nonfarm rural communities. These nonfarm programs and services respond to national needs and have the potential to strengthen the rural economic and social infrastructure that is so important to farm and ranch families at the same time that they broaden the base