In 1862, almost 50 percent of all U.S. residents lived on farms, which employed almost 60 percent of the labor force. The business of the day was agriculture, and the land grant college of agriculture (LGCA) system was mandated
… to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life (1862 Morrill Act).
Initiated in 1862 with the passage of the first Morrill Act, and expanded in 1890 with the passage of the second Morrill Act, the LGCA system was the first embodiment of a post-Civil War national philosophy about higher education—the concept of higher education of a practical nature for citizens of ordinary means.
The 1862 Morrill Act produced land grant colleges in every state and territory and the District of Columbia. The 59 resulting colleges (including 3 within the University of California system and 6 in U.S. territories) are known as the 1862 colleges or "1862s." The second Morrill Act, which mandated access to African-Americans, gave rise to a set of historically Black colleges located in southern states and known as the 1890 colleges or "1890s." There are 17 1890 institutions—16 public state colleges and Tuskegee University.
As full-fledged universities grew up around the original colleges, the LGCAs continued to have a unique relationship with the public and the federal government—one that has lasted more than 130 years and has some distinctive features. In initiating this study, the National Research Council (NRC) felt that an assessment was needed of whether these long-standing institutional arrangements continue to work to the advantage of the nation and, indeed, to the advantage of the LGCA system.
The two Morrill acts and two subsequent pieces of land grant legislation, the 1887 Hatch Act and the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, together endowed the LGCAs with a three-part mission of teaching, research, and extension. Extension was designed to link the colleges' academic and research programs to societal needs through a public service function that includes extended education and technology transfer. Motivated by the desire to draw each state and territory into supporting science and education related to agriculture, land grant legislation created a federal-state partnership in agricultural research and technology
transfer. The partners have traditionally been the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), at the federal level, and every state and territory, through their land grant colleges and associated state agricultural experiment stations and extension services, at the state and local levels. Cementing the partnership is a financial arrangement: each state and territory receives federal funding through USDA for its agricultural research and extension programs, contingent on each state and territory matching these federal funds.1 These institutional funds for LGCAs' research and extension programs are administered by USDA and allocated based on formulas. The major components of the formulas are the percentages of the nation's rural and farm populations located in each state and territory.
Recently, about 30 percent of all research expenditures by LGCAs' state agricultural experiment stations derived from federal funds; state appropriations and private funds accounted for 51 percent and 19 percent, respectively. Of the 30 percent of expenditures supported by federal funds, about one-third came from formula funds, 10 percent from competitive research grants administered by USDA and specifically designated for food and agricultural system research, 13 percent from congressionally designated special grants, and 44 percent from non-USDA agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Science Foundation, and others.
Land grant colleges' extension services are supported by federal, state, local government and private funds. Recently, state appropriations contributed 47 percent, federal funds contributed 29 percent, and local government and private support accounted for 24 percent. The federal funds are drawn from USDA-administered formula funds (69 percent), congressionally designated funds (28 percent), and other federal sources (3 percent). Federal funding for teaching programs in food and agricultural sciences has been minimal in relation to support for research and extension (USDA-administered programs total $18 million); a formula such as those used to fund research and extension has never been adopted, nor is it proposed here.
The Colleges' Contemporary Context
Since the colleges' early years, the nation has experienced dramatic changes in the business of farming. First, in good part because of the colleges' contributions to agricultural knowledge and farm technology, farming is today an industry based on science and technology. The productivity of farm labor has increased almost sevenfold since 1948 as a result of the development of modern farm technology, the use of more capital relative to labor, and improvements in the quality of inputs and managerial practices.
Second, the profile of a farm has changed dramatically since the LGCA system's early years. Family farms still account for the majority of farms in the United States; however, the contemporary family farm is often a complex business entity, and family farms range in size from small-scale specialty farms to very large-scale, commercial organizations. Farming has also become a highly concentrated industry, thus a relatively small share of all farms produce a significantly larger share of all farm output. Associated with the great size disparity among U.S. farms is the fact that there are farmers of significantly different economic means, educational backgrounds, research capacities, and information needs.
Third, some segments of the U.S. food and agricultural sector are increasingly industrialized. In other words, farming, processing, and marketing are increasingly coordinated activities controlled through ownership or contractual arrangements by a single firm or "integrator." In such operations, the seed, animals, or feed used for production may be owned by the integrating firm, which has a technical and professional staff that provides context-specific information to contractors based on proprietary data and research.
As discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, state governments are not required to match federal funds designated for research and extension programs at 1890 institutions. The matching requirement for the funds to 1890s was omitted by legislators because they feared that states would not agree to provide the matching funds and, thus, federal funds to those institutions would be lost.
These developments are requiring LGCAs in some parts of the country to rethink their partnerships with some farm and ranch client groups.
Along with changes in the farm sector, the national interest in the performance of the food and agricultural system, of which farming is one component, has evolved over the decades to reflect a wider array of public expectations. The modern food and agricultural system encompasses primary production, processing, marketing, and retailing—consumer-oriented activities that now provide 18 percent of U.S. employment, 16 percent of "value added" to domestic production, and substantial contributions to the nation's export earnings. The food and agricultural system includes, as well, the interaction of these economic activities with natural resources and the environment, human communities and their well-being, and consumer health, safety, and ethics—interactions often difficult to evaluate in economic terms but clearly valued by contemporary society. Expanding global population, tightening global resource constraints, and environmental quality and food safety concerns combine to underscore the need for continued improvement in the productivity and sustainability of the food and agricultural system and the quality and safety of its products.
Major Conclusions And Recommendations
The committee assessed the adaptations of each of the three functions of the LGCAs—teaching, research, and extension—to the colleges' contemporary environment and the U.S. public's changing needs and priorities. A national science and education infrastructure that underpins continued advances in performance of the food and agricultural system, and federal support of that infrastructure, remain squarely in the national interest. The committee identified, however, four principal areas for change. Specifically, within the LGCA system there is
- the need for greater relevance and accessibility through programs that embody an expanded view of the modern food and agricultural system and through inclusion of a wider array of students, faculty, and clientele of diverse backgrounds and perspectives;
- the need to remove historic barriers and, indeed, encourage research, teaching, and extension collaborations that cross disciplines, institutions, and states; to encourage faculty and student exchanges; and to make all programs in the system accessible to as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible—that is, there is a firm need to create a "new geography" that cannot be confined to a locality;
- the need for stronger linkages among the equally important functions of teaching, research, and extension as well as the need to reinvigorate the colleges' role as models of the land grant concept and philosophy; and finally,
- the need for heightened accountability and quality through competitive processes for funding, guiding principles for the use of public (especially federal) resources, and more regular and critical evaluations of publicly funded programs.
Twenty recommendations were developed to enhance the ability of the LGCAs to respond to the challenges posed by these themes (see Recommendations Table).
Relevance and Accessibility of the LGCA System
LGCAs should garner effective input from a wide variety of stakeholders; receipt of federal (USDA-administered) funds—both formula funds and competitive grants—should be contingent on the demonstration of such input (Chapter 2, Recommendation 1). LGCAs have a responsibility, based on their philosophical roots and legislative mandate, to be relevant and accessible to the general public and particularly to citizens of ordinary means. However, many of today's food and agricultural system beneficiaries, such as urban and suburban residents and environmentalists, have little knowledge of or connection to many of the LGCAs. These connections should be enhanced to ensure that resource allocation at LGCAs increasingly reflects the broad and diverse national interest in the food and agricultural system, an outcome crucial to extending the colleges' relevance into the 21st century.
Recommendations for the Future of the Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture
Federal funding programs should augment efforts of LGCAs to bridge and link academic programs of 1862 colleges, 1890 colleges, and 1994 colleges (Chapter 2, Recommendation 6). LGCAs have recognized for some time the need to enhance diversity among their student populations and, through that process, the faculty, scientists, managers, technicians, and policy makers in food and agricultural fields. The historically Black 1890 colleges have played a significant role in training minority-group students in the food and agricultural sciences and related disciplines. Twenty-nine Native American colleges joined the land grant system through federal legislation in 1994; these "1994" colleges provide another potential avenue for increasing representation by a more diverse citizenry within food and agricultural science. Unfortunately, the 1890s (and 1994s, which are mostly 2-year institutions) offer few graduate-level training opportunities. Bridging agreements that facilitate the automatic transfer of students from one institution to another, once specified academic requirements have been met, could prove to be a useful mechanism for creating these opportunities. Enhancing such formal linkages among 1862, 1890, and 1994 land grant institutions may be key to advancing the role of minority-group professionals in scientific research and education, as well as in the management, technological, and policy making arenas of agriculture.
Two additional recommendations targeted the relevance and accessibility of LGCA programs:
- In response to the increasingly complex and diverse structure of U.S. agriculture, LGCAs must recognize the diversity of producer groups and target priorities, programs, and delivery mechanisms accordingly (Chapter 2, Recommendation 2).
- To enhance the role of 1890 colleges as providers of access to underrepresented producers and consumers, the federal government should require that states match federal formula funds for research and extension for 1890 colleges in the same manner as required for 1862 colleges (Chapter 4, Recommendation 12, and Chapter 5, Recommendation 14).
A New Geography for the LGCA System
Federal programs and policies should be structured so that significant shares (e.g., 25 percent or more) of current USDA-administered extramural funds—both formula funds and competitive grants—for teaching, research, and extension be used to provide incentives for programs and projects that effectively integrate and mobilize multistate and multi-institutional resources (Chapter 2, Recommendation 3). Today there are many reasons for bringing organizational
efficiencies to the LGCA system through creating a new geography based on multistate, multi-institutional, and multidisciplinary collaborations and partnerships. The case for a new geography rests on a number of findings:
- States are often not the best unit of organization or operation for food and agricultural research issues or extension programs. (Improving water quality, for example, may require the coordinated approach of several states sharing a watershed.)
- In the face of fiscal constraints, a broadened agenda for food and agricultural education, research, and extension requires more efficient use of resources within the national LGCA system.
- Smaller, less well-supported LGCAs may have to develop partnerships with other institutions to survive.
- Interconnectedness with other institutions and other parts of the country, through modern technologies such as videos, telecommunications, and the Internet, as well as transportation networks, offers broader exposure of students and faculty alike to diverse ideas, perspectives, values, and cultures.
Mechanisms other than the current federal policy of allocating 25 percent of formula research funds to regional projects must be found. The current approach is inflexible with respect to which institutions receive the funding because it is allocated by formula rather than based on the merit of the regional projects, largely ad hoc rather than linked to a formal prioritization process, and not successful in generating genuine multi-institutional, multidisciplinary, and regionally based approaches.
Competitive challenge grants should reward teachers and teaching teams that develop innovative multidisciplinary and systems-based course material and curricula (Chapter 3, Recommendation 8). LGCAs and federal grants programs must foster partnerships among faculty from different disciplines to build the knowledge base for sustainable food and agricultural production systems. Discoveries in the different disciplines (genetics, plant physiology, crop breeding, animal science, and economics, for example) realize their greatest potential value when related to one another and applied to real-world needs through integrative research. For this reason, the committee also strongly endorses special divisions of competitive grants programs for multidisciplinary research projects.
Linkages should be developed among programs at non-USDA agencies and USDA-based extension programs (Chapter 5, Recommendation 16). The colleges of agriculture and the USDA must develop linkages and partnerships with both university units and government agencies outside the LGCA system. Extension programs, for example, now encompass many nonfarm issues such as nutrition education and economic, community, and human resource development. These programs rely—actually or ideally—on a science and policy base often found, at least in part, outside the college of agriculture. These programs may also have a more synergistic effect in combination with public service programs administered by federal agencies other than USDA.
Reinvigorating the Tripartite Mission
Federal formula funds for research and extension should be combined into a single allocation; 50 percent of combined funds should be used to fund programs, projects, and activities that integrate teaching, research, and extension or the work of multiple disciplinarians (Chapter 2, Recommendation 4). LGCA administrations, faculty appointments, budgets, and federal land grant legislation are structured along the lines of teaching, research, and extension. Although it is the historical commitment to its three-part mission that has distinguished the LGCAs, the separate administrative and funding structures too often hinder integration of the three functions and their programs. The different statuses implicitly, if not explicitly, assigned to each function by the university community contributes to the separateness. Furthermore, the primary subject-matter focuses of LGCA undergraduates (agribusiness and agricultural economics and natural resource fields), of college research faculty (animal and plant sciences), and of extension staff (nutrition education; youth,
family, community, and leadership development; and other social science issues) have diverged significantly over the years; thus limiting the ready-made opportunities to integrate academic, research, and extension programs. Even with the acknowledged commitment to a balanced and integrated approach, teaching, research, and extension linkages can and should be improved.
Federal incentives and signals are important but not sufficient. The entire university should be accessible and responsive as the research base for extension programs (Chapter 5, Recommendation 15). The integration of teaching, research, and extension is valued for several reasons. Research-extension linkages, when they work well, spawn a two-way flow of insights and information that enhances the relevancy of research and uses research findings where they are most valuable to the public. Strong research-extension linkages help ensure that outreach programs reflect the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. The integration of teaching, research, and extension is of special value to students because it offers an academic experience that involves students in both the process of scientific discovery (as members of research teams) and public service (as extension interns and aides).
Two additional recommendations were designed to revitalize the linkages among teaching, research, and extension in the food and agricultural sciences.
- Students should be required to serve an internship in any of a wide range of settings representing diverse career opportunities (Chapter 3, Recommendation 7).
- To strengthen the research base for extension programs, the applied research capacity in economics, sociology, public health, and related disciplines should be improved as should their applications to extension programs (Chapter 5, Recommendation 17).
Federal Funding: Levels and Guiding Principles
The federal partner should increase its use of competitive research grants to fund projects and individuals on the basis of merit as determined by peer review (Chapter 4, Recommendation 9). Federal research and development (R&D) funds totaled $69 billion in 1994. A little more than 2 percent ($1.5 billion) funded R&D conducted or administered by USDA. Of the USDA portion, approximately 30 percent ($400 million)—or 0.6 percent of all federal R&D—funded agricultural research conducted outside of USDA (most often at land grant colleges and universities). Of these USDA-administered extramural funds, approximately 55 percent were allocated to land grant colleges according to a formula; approximately 25 percent was in the form of competitive grants accessible to all researchers in and outside of land grant colleges; and the remainder was in the form of congressionally designated grants to institutions for specific programs.
These numbers were factors in two conclusions drawn by the committee. First, federal support of research designated for food and agricultural system issues and problems is indeed modest in light of (a) the heightened national interest in the performance of the food and agricultural system, (b) the evidence from the economics literature describing high social rates of return on public investments in agricultural research (from 30 to 50 percent), and (c) the total federal investment in R&D. Second, USDA-administered research funding differs from other R&D funding in the much smaller percentage allocated to individuals and projects on the basis of merit review and competition because of (a) the relatively large share of agricultural research conducted intramurally by USDA agencies and (b) the use of formula funds and congressionally designated grants in allocating extramural funds to institutions. Consequently, the committee strongly supports full funding of the $500 million competitive grants program for food and agricultural system research that was detailed in the 1989 NRC report entitled Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural Food and Environmental System. Merit-based, peer-reviewed research by scientists within and outside the land grant colleges and their research experiment stations is essential to discover and advance the fundamental knowledge needed to enhance productivity and sustainability of the world's food and agricultural system. There is also a continued valuable role for formula funded research
at land grant colleges based on the special needs outlined in this report and the unique opportunities formula funds provide. However, formula-funded research like competitively funded research must undergo reviews for scientific merit, relevance, and accountability.
Arguments can be made for and against both formula-based funding to institutions and competitive grants to individuals and projects—each comes with benefits and costs. However, some of the early reasons for formula funding of state experiment stations, such as the need to draw each state and territory into agricultural research and the site-specific nature of agricultural research, carry less weight today. Today most states provide far more financial support than is required to match the federal dollars; and many types of food and agricultural research, such as nutrition, food safety, and biotechnology, have little or no location specificity. Other arguments for formula funds, such as the ways they can be used to link research to extension programs that respond to local, state, and regional needs, and their support for certain applied research projects that require long-term continuity (such as maintenance research required to renovate or replace deteriorations in past gains in crop productivity), remain quite compelling. Despite its uniqueness, agricultural research needs to enhance quality, accountability, and equity through greater use of competitive allocation mechanisms.
In constructing its recommendation for increased funding of USDA's competitive grant programs and an increase in the total share of federal research support that is awarded competitively to projects and individuals (including teams) on the basis of peer-reviewed merit, the committee was mindful of budget realities. It accepted and even offered options for funding trade-offs, including:
- directing funds to research from other USDA budget categories, particularly as a means of reinvesting savings on agricultural subsidies;
- transferring to competitive grants programs a portion of the funds currently distributed to experiment station by formula and special grants; and
- drawing on USDA intramural noncompetitive research funding.
Furthermore, the committee challenges the LGCAs to generate resources needed to address a broader array of public issues through greater efficiency of organization and through realizing the potential for new relationships between the public and private sectors.
The formula by which food and agricultural research and extension funds are allocated should be redesigned so as to reflect the full range of food and agricultural research and extension beneficiaries (Chapter 4, Recommendation 11, and Chapter 5, Recommendation 19). The formula by which federal formula funds are allocated to the land grant colleges is outdated in relation to modern food and agricultural system issues and constituencies. These formulas were generated in an era when a much higher percentage of the nation's population was rural and farm based, and the nation's agricultural interests were dominated by concerns with domestic crop production and food security. Today, many issues of concern to the U.S. public, such as diet and health, food safety, and families and youth at risk, are not specific to farm production regions, suggesting the need to rethink formulas for both research and extension programs.
The congruence of federally funded programs with well-justified guidelines for federal funding should be reviewed critically and regularly. (Chapter 2, Recommendation 5). Public accountability in the use of federal funds for food and agricultural system research and extension would be enhanced by periodic evaluation of whether guidelines for public funding are being followed. These guidelines are particularly important because the incentives for the private sector to conduct food and agricultural research and extension have increased, while public R&D resources have seen relatively little growth. Federal support is justified and needed for food and agricultural research and extension activities that address national needs and priorities and provide public goods—that is, goods that benefit society
but that are not supplied in optimal amounts by a competitive market. Public goods in the context of the food and agricultural system include
- fundamental knowledge (which may be embodied in agronomic practices);
- protection or enhancement of environmental quality;
- knowledge about food and product safety risks and protection from undue risk;
- improved human health through diet and nutrition;
- protection against genuine national food security risks; and
- knowledge essential to the accomplishment of national goals such as social equity, economic efficiency, and informed public policy making.
Federal support is particularly well justified for those research and extension activities that produce public goods that cross political (state) boundaries or for which political boundaries do not apply; hence the committee's support for multi-institutional and regional programs and projects.
New approaches to augmenting extension financing should be pursued (Chapter 5, Recommendation 18). In many other countries, what in the United States is considered public extension service has been substantially privatized. In the United States, the land grant system's extension services are increasingly being offered also by the private sector through, for example, private crop consultants and technicians employed by integrator firms. Despite the growing role for private actors in disseminating agricultural information and technology, the committee concludes that public extension remains in the national interest because it helps ensure that research translates into practical applications with broad-based benefits; that information is widely accessible, accurate, and science-based; and that the problems and needs of all groups—not just those who can afford to pay—are relayed to research scientists and administrators. Nonetheless, extension can today pursue new and innovative approaches to the delivery of services to expand access and share benefits across political boundaries; explore multi-institutional and regional arrangements to increase efficiency and maintain service levels; improve linkages to university research and academic programs to strengthen the science base (for its nonfarm programs in particular); and better target limited resource clientele with publicly funded services. In addition, the federal government should increase the use of competitive grants and merit-based review to allocate federal dollars appropriated for innovative extension initiatives (Chapter 5, Recommendation 20).
Federal Policy versus Institutional Leadership
Many of the committee's recommendations address federal policy, particularly federal funding. This is because the allocation of federal funds sends important signals and provides important incentives to institutions and individuals. Nonetheless, the future of the LGCAs is most likely to be shaped by the colleges themselves as they adapt their programs to contemporary food and agricultural system issues.
There are many areas in which the colleges, working within the university, can take the lead. For example, colleges of agriculture have revised tenure and promotion guidelines that reward scholarship in many diverse forms, and that recognize the potential for scholarship in the teaching and extension missions. Many colleges have taken important steps in curriculum innovation to enhance the roles of environmental sciences, nutritional and food sciences, international studies, and courses that integrate basic and social sciences with food and agricultural issues and applications.
The land grant system has served the nation well, but changes are needed that reflect modern realities, challenges, and opportunities. In particular, the system must increase it relevance to contemporary food and agriculture system issues and concerns; reinvigorate its commitment to the linkages among teaching, research, and public service; organize its programs and projects more efficiently and more in keeping with the regional and
multistate requirements of many modern food and agriculture system problems; and enhance its accountability to the public.
Federal funding has an important role in promoting innovation. Federal formula funds should be administered more efficiently (as one budget category rather than two); used more creatively to "jump start" programs and projects that more effectively integrate research, extension, and teaching, and the work of multiple disciplines; and their allocation among states and regions needs to be rethought, including improving the allocation and effectiveness of the 25 percent of formula research funds designated for regional projects. Federal formula funds have a particularly important role in supporting the programs of the historically Black 1890 colleges. In the interest of equity and the importance of the clientele served by historically Black 1890 colleges, states should be required to match federal formula funds to these institutions (as they are required to do in the case of 1862s).
The role of competitive grants and merit review in food and agricultural system research and extension should be enhanced. Competitive grant program administrators should also draw upon the NIH model to develop a two-tier review system, and they should continue to strive to provide incentives for inter- and multidisciplinary research in food and agriculture. Competitive grant program design should encourage participation and potential for success by smaller research institutions and 1890s (which currently rely heavily on formula funds) in order to sustain and build human capital in food and agricultural research nationwide; and multistate and multi-institutional programs and projects that reflect the appropriate geographical configuration of many contemporary food and agricultural system problems.
Their historical commitment to public service distinguishes the LGCAs. The committee's deliberations led to the conclusion that the tripartite tradition of teaching, research, and extension at the land grant colleges is a unique institutional base on which to erect the structure of knowledge that can assure a socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable food and agricultural system. Some components of colleges of agriculture could be appropriate models for the other colleges and programs of the land grant universities as they seek to integrate their teaching, research, and outreach activities.