engineering of plants and animals is dramatically changing food and agricultural science. Patent protection for genetically modified organisms is simultaneously increasing incentives for the private sector to engage in proprietary research in food, plant, and animal sciences. Although the Profile report notes that the real value of total USDA research agency appropriations increased less than 1 percent annually between 1980 and 1990 and only 2 percent annually between 1990 and 1993, the private sector's role has increased substantially. Currently the private sector's role is estimated to be larger than the public sector's role, and it has expanded significantly in areas, such as plant breeding, that were once almost entirely public responsibilities (Klotz et al., 1995). Additionally, the private sector's role in financing research conducted at the public land grant colleges has also increased in size and relative importance (National Research Council, 1995a), raising issues of how the public-private partnerships can evolve profitably and in keeping with the public service mandate of land grant institutions.
The farm production sector has itself changed dramatically since the LGCA system's early years. The sector has become highly concentrated, such that a small portion of all farms produce a majority of the farm output entering major commercial channels. In addition to the great size disparity among U.S. farms is the fact that U.S. farmers span the income scale from high income and highly capitalized to low-income and limited resource. These different farm populations may have very different expectations and needs as regards the college of agriculture and very different abilities to pay for research findings and extension services.
Industrial agriculture, characterized by vertical ownership (that is, control by a single corporate entity) of farming, processing, and marketing activities, is becoming more important. It is a trend that is challenging the traditional role of the public land grant colleges in serving independent farmers and ranchers whose agricultural operations are too small to conduct their own research or their own market analysis. At the same time, parts of the country are seeing new participants in farming, or old participants engaged in a new kind of farming, such as small-scale units oriented toward suburban and urban niche markets for fresh produce and other family farm products. There is also growing acceptance nationwide of alternative farming production technologies4; and there is a growing recognition of the need for education and research that expand and improve technological options for sustainable production systems—systems that enhance the compatibility of farm profitability, environmental quality, and human communities (Anderson, 1995).
As discussed above, the LGCAs are in part a federal responsibility. A long list of federal legislation following the Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts expanded funding to the college system, revamped funding mechanisms, expanded or refined provisions for the use of federal funds, and even added institutions to the system. For example, the 1925 Purnell Act emphasized the role of the LGCAs in improving rural life. The 1946 Research and Marketing Act revised the formula for allocating formula funds for research (also known as Hatch funds). The 1977 National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act (the 1977 farm bill) instituted formula funds for research at 1890
According to Alternative Agriculture (National Research Council, 1989a), alternative agriculture is not a single system of farming practices. It includes a spectrum of farming systems, ranging from organic systems that attempt to use no purchased synthetic chemical inputs, to those involving the prudent use of pesticides or antibiotics to control specific pests or diseases. Alternative farming encompasses, but is not limited to, farming systems known as biological, low-input, organic, regenerative, or sustainable. It includes a range of practices such as integrated pest management (IPM); low-intensity animal production systems; crop rotations designed to reduce pest damage, improve crop health, decrease soil erosion, and, in the case of legumes, fix nitrogen in the soil; and tillage and planting practices that reduce soil erosion and help control weeds. Alternative farmers incorporate these and other practices into their farming operations.