The Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council (NRC) convened the Committee on the Future of the Colleges of Agriculture in the Land Grant University System in November 1993 to assess adaptations of the tripartite mission of teaching, research, and extension at land grant colleges of agriculture (LGCAs) to
- a changing client base for food and agricultural research and education,
- a reinvigorated science base for food and agriculture, and
- constrained public resources for science and education.
The committee was charged with recommending public policies and institutional innovations that could enhance the land grant colleges' role in serving the national interest. The committee's first report, Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A Profile (National Research Council, 1995a) provides a great deal of background material about the LGCA system and U.S. agriculture. The Profile report is often cited in this report and is intended to be used as a companion document for the reader who seeks additional quantitative and descriptive detail.
The science and education agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were sponsors of this study, recognizing that this is a time of diverse and complex public issues and concerns regarding the food and agricultural system. Their leadership also recognized the value of an independent assessment of an institution born of federal legislation and supported largely by state and federal funds.
Uniqueness Of The Land Grant College Of Agriculture System
The LGCA system is a unique component of higher education in the United States. Initiated in 1862 with the passage of the first Morrill Act, the LGCAs were mandated to bring higher education of a practical nature to citizens of ordinary means. The LGCA commitment to higher education in service to the public was in sharp contrast to the orientation of most of the nation's academic institutions of the time (Meyer, 1993), which emphasized the study of philosophy, theology, law, medicine, and the classics. In 1862 almost 50 percent of all U.S. residents lived on farms, and almost 60 percent of the labor force worked on them (National Research Council, 1995a). The business of the day was
agriculture, and so the "leading object" of the new land grant colleges was "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). The opening of land grant colleges during the latter half of the 19th century helped expand higher education opportunities into the western parts of the nation as the population also migrated westward.
Throughout their history, the land grant colleges of agriculture have had a unique relationship with the federal government and a special responsibility to the public. Three pieces of federal legislation—the first Morrill Act (1862), the Hatch Act (1887), and the Smith-Lever Act (1914)—endowed the colleges with a three-part mission of teaching, research, and extension. The third component of the mission—extension—links the LGCAs' programs to the needs of society at large through a service function that includes extending education and technology transfer to the public.
Federal legislation also spawned a federal-state partnership in agricultural science and education (with a local government component, as well, for extension). The traditional federal partner is the USDA, particularly its extra- and intramural science agencies. As described in the Profile report, the USDA agency that administers base funding and grants programs for extramural research, education, and extension is the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). 1 Each U.S. state and territorial government (through their land grant colleges and associated state agricultural experiment stations and extension services) is a partner at the state and territorial levels.
The partnership has a financial component: each state and territory receives federal funding through USDA for its agricultural research and extension if it matches these federal funds with its own resources. The federal-state partnership also entails a working relationship in identifying national issues and setting priorities in food and agricultural research and education, and in sharing responsibilities for the conduct of agricultural research and technology transfer.
A unique aspect of the LGCA system is that a portion of federal funding for agricultural research and extension is allocated to the colleges, through their associated state experiment stations and extension services, according to formulas.2 The variable components of these formulas are the percentages of the nation's rural and farm populations located in each state and territory. Federal funding for research has been allocated by this formula since the 1935 Bankhead-Jones Act, and federal funding for extension has been allocated by formula since the 1914 Smith-Lever Act (National Research Council, 1995a).
In sum, the LGCA system has a distinctive history and is defined by some unique institutional arrangements. This report is oriented toward assessing how well these arrangements have continued to function in the context of changes in farming, in societal issues and concerns related to food and agriculture, in the science base for food and agriculture, and in the public funding environment.
The Changing Context Of The LGCA System And The New National Interest
Since the colleges' early years, and in good part because of the colleges' contributions to agricultural knowledge and farm productivity, the agricultural industry, nationwide, has undergone a transformation. The productivity of farm labor has increased almost sevenfold since 1948, and the productivity of all farm inputs together has almost tripled since 1948 as a result of the development of modern farm technology and improvements
LGCAs: Named for the Year of Their Mandate
The original Morrill Act (1862) mandated that colleges of agriculture b established in all U.S. states and territories and the District of Columbia, totaling 59 colleges as "1862s" (including three land grant campuses as part of the University of California system).
The second Morrill Act (1890) mandated a second set of land grant colleges in that it conditioned receipt of federal funds to land grant colleges on access to African-Americans. Thus, southern states initiated separate colleges for African-American students. Today there are 17 historically Black land grant colleges known as "1890s," which serve an increasingly diverse student population (Christy and Williamson, 1992; National Research Council 1995a). Over the years, 1890 institutions have become recipients of federal funding for land grant institutions; however, federal law does not require that states match federal funds to 1890s, whereas it does require that states match federal funds for 1862s.
In 1994, the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act conferred land grant status on the 29 Native American Colleges that comprise the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. An endowment was authorized to fund these colleges as well as funds for the colleges' education and extension programs in agricultural and natural resources. Thus were born the "1994s.''
Today the 1862s, 1890s, and 1994s constitute the 105 institutions that compose the land grant colleges of agriculture system
in the quality of inputs and managerial practices (Executive Office of the President, 1995). Public investments in agricultural science and technology have helped make farm labor more productive, farm output more stable and abundant, and farm commodities less costly to food processors and manufacturers—outcomes that have benefited not only the farm sector but also U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy generally.
Today farms are residences for less than 2 percent of all U.S. citizens and employ approximately 3 percent of the U.S. labor force, whereas 75 percent of U.S. citizens live in urban and suburban environments, and the vast majority do not work on farms. Nonetheless, the performance of the food and agricultural system, of which farming is one component, is extremely important to the U.S. economy, and indeed, to the world economy. Today's U.S. food and agricultural system encompasses food and fiber production, processing, marketing, and retailing—activities that provide 18 percent of U.S. employment, 16 percent of "value added" to domestic production, and significant and increasing amounts of foreign exchange through farm and food export earnings (National Research Council, 1995a).
The U.S. public is also increasingly concerned about how these primary production and processing activities interact with natural resources and the environment, rural communities, consumer health, safety, and ethics. The monetary value of environmental quality, the natural resource base, human health, and the quality of life are often difficult to measure but are clearly of value to society. Diet-related health; food safety; water and air quality; soil, water, and energy conservation; wildlife habitat; open space and the nation's landscape; and a "way of life" that is associated with the family farm and rural
Technological Change and the Development of U.S. Agriculture
The remarkable increases in agricultural productivity wrought by scientific discovery and agricultural technology development contributed importantly to the growth of the U.S. economy. Since more food and fiber could be produced using fewer of the nation's resources, other parts of the economy could grow more rapidly. And, since farm commodities could be produced at less cost, food and fiber products could be priced more reasonably and consumers had more remaining income to spend on other goods and services. These interrelationships continue to be important to sustaining global economic performance and to stimulating economic growth in developing countries.
The need for a science base to underpin the development of agricultural technology was already, by 1887, well recognized when the Hatch Act formally established the state agricultural experiment stations. Early on, the science of agriculture was influenced by both supply-side and demand-side factors. Supply-side factors included developments in fundamental science, such as those of the "father of organic chemistry," Justus von Liebig, to which agricultural scientists had access. Demand-side factors included the technical needs of the farmers, such as identifying the most suitable varieties and agronomic practices for growing small grains in the Plains States (Cochrane, 1979). Today's supply-side factors might be thought to be developments in biotechnology and genetic engineering, while demand-side factors include the needs of producers and a wide variety of food and agricultural system issues that concern a more affluent society.
Over the decades, economic forces have been among the strongest influences shaping the nature of agricultural innovations in both the private and public sectors. Economists use the "induced-innovation model" to explain the relation between economic conditions and the rate and direction of technological change. The model assumes that innovators, including farmers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, develop new technologies that conserve relatively expensive resources and use relatively less expensive ones. The induced-innovation model helps explain the surge in farm mechanization during manpower shortages that occurred during the Civil War and as the nation expanded westward between 1870 and 1900 (Cochrane, 1979). It also helps explain why yield-increasing technologies were developed and adopted on a significant scale after the close of land frontier in the early 20th century. Hayami and Ruttan (1985) apply the induced-innovation model to argue that declining real-energy prices (in relation to land and labor costs) induced the widespread adoption of petroleum-based fertilizers and chemicals.
As the U.S. economy grew and family incomes increased, consumer preferences became increasingly important in influencing the contributions of science to the food and agricultural system. Innovators have responded rapidly to many modern consumer demands that are reflected in the marketplace, such as preferences for a variety of convenient products with desirable sensory attributes. The induced-innovation model suggests, however, that other contemporary consumer concerns, such as environmental quality, food safety and nutrition, and other nonsensory food attributes, will be
undersupplied by technological development because their values are often not captured in market prices for farm products or inputs and so the signals to innovators are incomplete. For example, Ruttan (1971) explained why agricultural research would overemphasize technologies that use chemical inputs and underinvest in technologies that conserve them: the negative effects on society of agricultural chemical use are not reflected in costs of production borne by farmers or the market prices of farm products. The committee's discussion, throughout this report, of the need for public research and extension resources to enhance the provision of public goods—goods likely to be undersupplied by the private sector, such as fundamental knowledge, environmental quality, food safety, and social equity—is in keeping with this historical overview of the development of U.S. agriculture and the role of technological change and economic forces.
communities: these are all concerns of taxpayers who finance food and agricultural research, education, and extension. For example, the relationship between diet and human health is increasingly well documented. According to some research, improving dietary habits might prevent at least 20 percent of deaths annually from heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Diet as well as other factors—including genetic predisposition—are related to hypertension, osteoporosis, and obesity, which affect productivity and life span (Frazao, 1995). The breadth of this set of issues, as well as the obvious relevance to all U.S. residents, means that the constituencies of the colleges of agriculture include those who live in urban and suburban communities as well as those who live on farms and in rural areas.
Continuing food security—that is, access to food at reasonable prices—for the nation and the world is also among national concerns as global population continues to expand and food production extends to environmentally sensitive and marginal lands. World population is expected to reach 7.4–8.4 billion in 2020 (United Nations, 1995). According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), crop yields are expected to increase at slower rates over the next 25 years than have been experienced during the past decade, assuming governments maintain their current (recently reduced) levels of support for agricultural research and infrastructure. IFPRI analyses indicate that further cuts in research and infrastructure investments, and in health, nutrition, and education programs, could result in increases in world food prices and in more malnutrition among children in developing countries (Rosegrant et al., 1995).3
In this highly interdependent global economy for food and agricultural products, developments in the U.S. agricultural sector have implications for economic growth, food security, and nutritional health in the rest of the world; and, conversely, developments on a global level are reflected in U.S. supermarkets and in our pocketbooks. Responding to these national and global issues and concerns requires scientific knowledge that spans and integrates the physical, biological, and social sciences.
Paralleling changes in society's interests in the food and agricultural system are major changes in the food and agricultural science base and science institutions. Genetic
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).
Key Issues For The Federal Sector
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
colleges, new formula-based funds for animal health research, and a new competitive grants program to be administered by the USDA but open to all scientists inside and outside of the land grant system. The 1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act (the 1990 farm bill) expanded the 1977 competitive grants program by mandating the National Initiative for Research on Agriculture, Food, and Environment (known as the NRI).
Today, for many LGCAs, federal formula funds contribute a relatively small portion of their total financial base; the primary portion of the funding base is state support, but it also encompasses private funds and other federal grants funds (awarded by federal science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health). In 1992, federal formula funds accounted for 10 percent of total research expenditure by state agricultural experiment stations, while state support accounted for 50 percent (National Research Council, 1995a). However, there are many land grant colleges for which these USDA-administered formula funds (which total about $500 million for both research and extension) remain a vital component of their funding base. Different approaches to federal funding could mean different futures for the diverse institutions within the LGCA system.
Among the important federal issues that helped focus the work of the committee and this report are the following:
- What is the contemporary and future national interest in a federally supported LGCA system?
- How should federal funds be allocated? By what mechanisms? To which institutions, programs, and projects?
- What are the implications for the use of public funds as regards the growing private sector role in food and agricultural research and extension? How do the public and private sectors complement each other in the national interest?
- How can limited federal funds be a catalyst for institutional innovation that responds to contemporary and future societal issues and realities?
Methodology Used to Develop This Study
The study was designed to have three stages. During the first, the committee collected, reviewed, and assessed public data and information about the LGCAs and their operating environment and solicited the expert opinions of observers of and participants in the land grant system. The committee reviewed the historical background and early context of the LGCA system, tracked its legislative history, and discussed the changes in U.S. society and the economy since the colleges' early years. Against this setting, the committee evaluated public data related to academic programs, research, and extension, such as trends in student enrollments, demographics, fields of study, federal funds for agricultural research, the changing mechanisms by which research funds are allocated and how sources of funding differ across institutions, and the evolving emphases of agricultural research and extension programs. Much of the data and background information collected by the committee was published in the interim report, Colleges of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A Profile (National Research Council, 1995a). Developing the Profile report was a means of building a common base of understanding among committee members and of laying an empirical foundation for deliberations. The Profile report was published to make the data collected available and useful to the many who were interested in or already engaged in shaping the future of the land grant system.
The second stage of the study occurred in the spring of 1995, when committee members held public forums in five states—Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, and South Dakota. From California, where a forum was scheduled but canceled due to previously scheduled activities of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, written public comment was provided by would-be participants in the forum. The goal of the forums was an up-close examination of the interface between college activities and public needs
in five differing state and university environments. Each forum had three major sessions: one with members of external client groups, one with college administrators and staff, and one with representatives of state agencies and legislative offices. In Missouri and North Carolina, the committee visited with staff of both 1862 and 1890 institutions. The information generated by the forums was anecdotal (and representation of client groups at the forums was affected by travel time and costs and scheduling conflicts), but it enriched and tended to support the empirical portrait constructed more systematically through the use of quantitative indicators such as those published in the Profile report. Additionally, many of the examples of college programs and activities presented in this report were identified during these state visits or through contact with the land grant colleges in these states.
The third stage of the study began in July 1995 at the committee's fifth meeting. During July 1995 through January 1996, the committee synthesized and integrated information from the first two phases and engaged in the deliberative process that has resulted in this final report.
Organization of the Remainder of This Report
Separate pieces of federal land grant legislation address the land grant system's teaching, research, and extension responsibilities. College administrative structures and budgets, and faculty appointment types and responsibilities, are also divided along the lines of the three land grant functions. There are also distinct constituencies for the colleges' teaching, research, and extension programs. For these reasons, this report contains separate chapters that address each component of the colleges' three-part mission. However, many important issues—such as access to and relevancy of the LGCA system, the organization and efficiency of the LGCA system, the justification for federal funding of the system, and, indeed, the integration of the three functions as one mission—are relevant to all three activities. A set of these cross-cutting themes and issues is presented in Chapter 2. Discussion of these themes precedes individual treatment of the three-part mission, in Chapters 3 through 5, to emphasize the committee's view that the land grant system of tomorrow is one that will have renewed its historical commitment to service to the public through an integrated mission of teaching, research, and extension. Chapter 3 (Teaching) discusses student test scores, student-faculty contact and incentives to teach, and academic programs and curricula in which the committee believes the LGCAs have opportunities for distinction. Chapter 4 (Research) discusses why food and agricultural system research is needed across the research continuum, which encompasses fundamental, integrative, and adaptive research and dissemination of research, and federal research funding levels and mechanisms. Chapter 5 (Extension) addresses extension's role in serving urban and suburban, as well as farm and nonfarm rural clients, and new approaches to financing public extension.