Cooperative Extension (extension) was designed to link land grant college programs, grass-roots needs, and national priorities. Its implementation completed the tripartite mission of the land grant college system and made the land grant model a unique concept in higher education. The three-way partnership among the federal government, the states, and the local communities was established to enable the delivery of new technologies to the farm and to relay farmers' needs to the university researcher as well as teach technical and self-enhancement skills to farm and rural youth; and it has helped rural households and communities meet their daily economic challenges and cope with changing times (Rasmussen, 1989). Although the distinction is not always clear, university extension, conversely, is more often focused on continuing education for graduates and members of the community and it is often fee-based.
Today cooperative extension faces many challenges but also considerable opportunity. Its critics argue it is spread too thin both spatially and substantively. Satellite training, Internet access, CD ROM, and videos have supplanted bulletins, brochures, and meeting presentations—the traditional media of cooperative extension. Furthermore, it is often not on the cutting edge of research, and many if not most of its programs do not have a broad base of support outside its traditional circle of clientele. At the same time, new information technologies offer opportunities to enhance the efficiency of extension delivery (Hildreth and Armbruster, 1981). Growing incentives for private consulting in the farm sector means that, where incentives for the private sector are lacking, extension can put more emphasis on programs with broad public benefits and on clientele with limited means to pay. The large number of public issues and informational needs that relate to the food and agricultural system exemplifies the continuing need for a system dedicated to linking science to the national interest.
Several issues important to extension, and accompanying recommendations, were discussed in Chapter 2:
- the potential for designing extension programs to create a new geography through regionalization, distance learning, and multistate collaborations;
- the diversity of producer and other clientele groups, and how extension along with research must—drawing on broad stakeholder input—more carefully assess the differing needs of these diverse groups;
How is University Extension Different from Cooperative Extension?
University extension at the University of Washington and the University of California at Santa Cruz fits the model of a continuing education program for college graduates. UC Santa Cruz Extension, for example, serves people with average annual incomes of more than $40,000, many of them interested in retooling or midcareer development. It offers formal instructional courses for credit and no credit. Unlike cooperative extension, university extension is not designed to reach underrepresented communities or to solicit grass-roots input regarding educational and research needs.
- the role of public research and extension in relation to these different groups and the need to target and prioritize programs accordingly;
- the importance of and potential for reforging links among research, extension, and teaching; and
- the need for meaningful performance indicators for extension (as well as teaching and research) and the need for more critical review and evaluation.
In this chapter the committee reviews the continuing national interest in the extension component of the land grant university's tripartite mission and the federal government's role in advancing the national interest. Focused on are two controversial issues: (1) the growing privatization of agricultural extension and (2) extension's nonfarm (or nonproduction) programs. The committee also discusses and makes recommendations regarding the allocation of federal extension funds.
The National Interest In Public Access To Food And Agricultural Knowledge And Research
The interface between the food and agricultural system and global and national well-being is extensive and complex. Involved are food needs and human health, economic performance and competitiveness, environmental quality, and sustainability of the natural resource base. Such complexity calls for a well-knit articulation of food and agricultural research and societal goals. Cooperative extension, as the interface between the university and the people, has an important continuing role in assuring that the conduct of related sciences is in the national interest.
Extension shares this role increasingly with the private sector; however, publicly financed extension remains in the national interest for three main reasons.
- First, a publicly supported extension service can assure that food and agricultural and related scientific research translate into practical applications and new technologies with broad-based public benefits.
- Second, extension can help guarantee that information that influences public policy and private decisions regarding the food and agricultural system (and its interface with human health, natural resources and the environment, and economic performance) is widely accessible, accurate, and science-based.
- Third, extension can play an important role in assuring that all peoples' problems and needs (not just those of people who can afford to pay) are relayed to research
- planners and translated as appropriate into research priorities and in coordinating and enhancing the interactions of diverse participants in the food and agricultural system.
Over the decades, external developments have changed and are changing cooperative extension's role in linking university knowledge to peoples' needs. Many of these changes are discussed in this chapter or in Chapter 2. At the same time, internal developments at many land grant universities may have heightened the importance of the extension component of the tripartite mission in completing the research continuum from discovery to application. The trend at many, particularly the larger research, universities has been toward fundamental, discipline-based research—a trend driven by federal research grants programs, by the strong justification for federal financing of basic research, and by the growing role of private firms in conducting some types of applied research. If extension is well integrated into the research process—at the earlier as well as later stages of the research continuum—and in touch with public issues and clientele needs, it can contribute importantly to the articulation of fundamental knowledge, practical applications, and public priorities.
Today there is a strong national interest in ensuring that the public receives accurate information about the agricultural and food sector with which to make well-founded decisions about issues that affect everyone. These issues include land use, water rights and allocation, environmental regulation, new technologies, and food safety standards. In fact, during the committee's public forums (held in the spring of 1995), one of the most-often heard comments from extension's traditional farm and ranch clientele was the desire for more assistance from extension in understanding the multiple federal laws and regulations that affect their use of land. Some suggested that extension can act as an information clearing-house with respect to the rules and regulations of multiple federal (and presumably state) agencies. May be because of the frustration regarding the goals and workings of government regulations, seemingly growing animosity toward federal agencies is of concern today. The extension service can be an effective liaison between public and private actors in the agricultural and food sectors by disseminating and interpreting information, conducting discussion groups and seminars, and relaying information back to federal agencies regarding the impacts of federal laws and regulations.
The literature suggests that the return on the public's investment in extension, as measured by its impact on farm productivity, has been substantial, although estimates vary widely (Evenson, 1979; Huffman, 1976; Huffman and Evenson, 1993; Huffman and Miranowski, 1981; Yee, 1992). The recent work of Huffman and Evenson (1993) suggests a rate of return on extension investments of approximately 20 percent, which is lower than for research. However, another set of studies, including work by Huffman (1976), Huffman and Miranowski (1981), and Evenson (1979), found rates of return on investments in extension of between 82 and 110 percent. And Yee (1992) estimated parameters of an econometrics model that translate into rates of return on the order of 100 percent. Evenson (1979) also found that a farm management research/extension component had the highest marginal return among the categories considered in analysis of research categories.
There are particular challenges to estimating returns on extension investments, and these challenges limit the usefulness of the above estimates in assessing extension's impact. A large share of extension funding is today allocated to human, family, and community development and nutrition education. The benefits and costs of these nonfarm extension programs are not included in the studies cited above, which focus on the impacts of agricultural extension on farm productivity. To do the needed analysis of returns on the public's investment in all extension activities, other measures of program performance must be identified and related to program investments (see Recommendation 13). The need for extension performance indicators was underscored in Chapter 2 in the discussion of accountability.
The Original Role for the Federal Government
When the nationwide extension system originally began to evolve, it did so without federal assistance. Some states started extension departments at the land grant colleges and some counties hired extension agents. A national initiative was needed, however; first to put the system in place in large states with small populations (like Montana) and, second to ensure a coordinated, effective system with a nationwide impact. The effort to develop a national system was given tremendous impetus by President Theodore Roosevelt's Commission on Country Life, which included Liberty Hyde Bailey, a founder of Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and nationally recognized for his research in horticulture and botany and his commitment to making research results available to farmers. The commission recommended (Rasmussen, 1989: p. 44) that
each state college of agriculture should organize as soon as practical a complete department of college extension. The work should include such forms of extension teaching as lectures, bulletins, reading courses, correspondence courses, demonstration, and other means of reaching the people at home and on their farms. It should be designed to forward not only the business of agriculture, but sanitation, education, home making, and all interests of country life.
As it took its final form in Smith-Lever legislation, the uniqueness of the nationwide extension system was its coordinated partnership among county, state, and federal governments (therefore ''cooperative" extension). The Smith-Lever Act provided a systemwide purpose for extension: "to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics and to encourage the application of the same."
The Federal Role
The federal government's initial role was to help put the cooperative extension system in place, to assure nationwide effectiveness, and to identify national needs. Over the decades, as the extension system matured, the federal role in financing extension decreased significantly in relation to funding by states and localities (National Research Council, 1995a). Total federal funds for extension were $439 million in FY 1995. This represented 29 percent of all cooperative extension funding from state, local (including county and private), and federal sources, down from 42 percent 20 years ago (National Research Council, 1995a). In some states the federal share is significantly smaller, although there is a large variation. State and local government funds are more important today than in the past. Private sources of funds, including corporate support, grants by nonprofit organizations, and fees for service, are also increasing in importance at the same time that there is a growing role for the private sector in providing extension services. Congressional stipulations governing the use of federal extension dollars have also increased, particularly to reorient extension toward the interests of urban and other nontraditional extension clientele.
Important Roles for the Federal Partner
If extension is a bottom-up system responsive to local needs and delivering local benefits, why should the federal government be involved? Certainly one of the main original reasons—that big states with small populations needed help in getting extension
up and running—is no longer valid. The committee believes, however, that there are important, well-targeted roles for the federal partner.
One of the most important roles is that of contributor to the funding of those extension programs that provide public goods that cross or transcend political boundaries. These programs lack the impetus of incentives for private funders, and states will tend to underfund such programs because their own producers and taxpayers cannot sufficiently appropriate the benefits.
Programs that introduce new technologies or management practices that reduce off-farm environmental damage often have these transboundary, public-good qualities. Environmental problems are often regional in nature because aquifers, rivers, soil, air, and smoke do not respect state lines (U.S. Congress, 1995). Additionally, broadly applicable technologies often "spillover" rapidly to the benefit of producers in other states and even other nations, and so their adaptation and dissemination tends to be underfunded by both the private sector and states. In this context, the federal partner can help the system realize considerable gains in efficiency by providing the incentives for states to engage in regional and other collaborative extension efforts (see Recommendation 3).
A second important role is that of financial supporter of those programs that provide public benefits where the constituency at the state and local levels lack economic means and political effectiveness. Human nutrition education is a good example because those most in need are economically and politically disadvantaged. The benefits to society of improving the nutritional status of infants and children and pregnant and lactating women, however, are well recognized and include reduced infant mortality, reduced health care costs, and improved development and learning abilities (National Research Council, 1994b). Another important function of such programs is providing marketing information and analyses for low-income and small-scale (such as many niche-market) farmers—clients who are typically unable to conduct such analyses on their own. They are, nevertheless, important providers of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables and other specialty products—a growing demand of U.S. consumers.
A third important role is that of a leader in reforging linkages between extension information and education, on the one hand, and land grant university research on the other. The federal government initiated the components of the land grant system—teaching, research, and extension—in separate phases: as each was implemented, it became clear that the next was needed. Despite the recognition that it was the integrated complex that was important, the separate pieces of legislation spawned separate funding systems and separate administrative structures. Agricultural research and extension have understandably diverged over the years for many reasons related to both internal and external forces. If extension of the future is to have the key place in the land grant model that it was meant to have, efforts must be made to mend the link, and the committee believes the federal government can and should have an important role in doing so (see Recommendation 4).
A fourth major role for the federal government involves ensuring accountability and equity in the use of federal funds for extension programs. This can be done by leading the way and working with state extension services to develop performance measures and standards (see Chapter 2 section, Accountability and Funding Principles).
A fifth and related role is that of acting as a national repository for data and information on extension programs; such a repository should benefit both extension users and extension suppliers. The data reporting system for public extension expenditures has been both less systematic and less accessible than that for research expenditures. Additionally, extension spending categories have changed significantly over time, making it difficult for users and analysts (as well as extension administrators) to assess changes in resource allocation (Fuglie et al., 1996). In the role of national repository, the federal government can assure that effective, successful programs at the regional, state, and local levels receive national recognition and, where appropriate, become national models.
RECOMMENDATION 13. Data on extension projects and programs, goals, and outcomes should be compiled and organized more systematically to enhance their usefulness to extension administrators and clientele and to aid in analyses of the returns on public investments in farm and nonfarm extension programs.
Who Is the Federal Partner?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been extension's federal partner, and as such, the committee encourages USDA to exercise leadership in drawing other federal agencies into support for and leadership of extension programs. The food and agricultural system is interconnected with human health and safety, environmental quality and natural resource management, energy sources and security, and human, community and economic development. Thus other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the Food and Drug Administration, and Health and Human Services, have inherent interests in the effectiveness of extension programs and should have a larger presence than they currently do if, in fact, these are programs that serve the national interest. Extension's federal partner has an opportunity to enhance communications between the federal research establishment and diverse federal initiatives in a variety of departments and to tie these to consumer needs and clientele concerns (see Recommendation 16). The committee hopes that the federal partner will accept the challenge to take on a stronger, more viable role in cooperative extension.
Extension's Role In The Modern Context
The context of the national condition is very different than it was at the time the base for extension was laid. Transportation networks are rapid and extensive and there have been major revolutions in communications systems technology; thus, at the same time that the nation has become increasingly connected and urban and suburban, farms and rural communities have become much less geographically isolated, and farm households are not nearly as different from nonfarm households as they used to be. Education and income of farm households is, on average, on a par with the education and income of nonfarm households (Dacquel and Dahmann, 1993). Many farmers and their families are well educated—often by the colleges of agriculture—and so have excellent connections to them. Most farm families include members who work off-farm, in local towns and cities; in fact, almost 80 percent of U.S. farm households have more off-farm than farm income (National Research Council, 1995a). Nonetheless, rural areas have a disproportionately high share of the nation's low-income communities and are engaged in constant struggles to secure an economic base for their futures (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1994).
The farm itself is very different than it was in the past, although a wide range of types of farms exists. The farms that account for the majority of agricultural products entering commercial markets are highly sophisticated organizations operating with cutting-edge production and information technologies. In fact, many large operations—particularly in the more industrialized and vertically integrated sectors like poultry and vegetables—can and do conduct their own applied research. They have the capacity, operations, resources, and knowledge base to do so.
Farms are also different today in that their operation is based on a wider range of professional sources of information and technical knowledge. Input manufacturers and suppliers as well as agronomic consultants deliver, for example, advice, testing, and scouting services to farmers on a fee-for-service basis. Farmers subscribe to or have access to a variety of farm-related trade publications, reports, and on-line services that contain production information, economic intelligence, and analyses provided by government agencies and consulting firms (Kalaitzandonakes and Bulloch, 1995; Wolf, 1995). These external changes—in part the result of decades of successful extension programs—pose significant challenges, but also opportunities, for cooperative extension.
Origins of Cooperative Extension
Conditions in the United States in the early years of the land grant colleges provided the justification and impetus for a nationwide cooperative extension system. Not only was there a large farm population, but farm and rural households had unique characteristics and needs. In addition to producing commodities for the market and managing farm and household finances, farm families were often largely self-sufficient economic units. They made many of their own farm and household items and produced, stored, and processed their own food. Farm families were often geographically dispersed and isolated. Transportation and communications were slow and still poorly developed in the late 1800s in many parts of the country. Most farmers were not likely to have the time or inclination to make special trips to the colleges to seek advice or attend special classes.
During this same period, colleges of agriculture were in need of a constituency and base of support to secure their future. Farm population as a share of total US. population declined from about 50 percent when the colleges were initiated in 1862 to about 35 percent in 1910, the year in which the absolute number of people living on farms peaked (National Research Council, 1995a). The majority of college students were already headed for confirm jobs and other ways of life; thus, students did not necessarily provide a strong link back to the farm. Additionally, among farmers there was widespread suspicion of what was referred to as "book farming" (Reassumes, 1989).
The loss of farm population after 1910 was noted and of some concern to national leaders. Followers of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party (1912), in particular, expressed the need to ensure that farm output could and would keep pace with the country's rapidly expanding population and that food and fiber would be abundant and reasonably priced in cities and towns. This national concern with food security, combined with the needs of farmers, created the demand for agricultural extension. Initially, a number of approaches were tried that were not exactly right for agriculture. For example, extension courses were offered at the colleges, and "farmers institutes" were established, which provided educational facilities locally at places farmers could reach. However, it tended to be farmers most in need of university knowledge and assistance that were least reached by these approaches, often because they were the least able or likely to make the effort to participate. Many believed that extension needed to go to the farmer and not wait for the farmers to come to the college or selected off-campus sites (Reassumes, 1989).
Challenges and Opportunities for the Future
First, the improvements in transportation and communication networks, coupled with the widespread awareness of extension among agricultural clientele and the higher education levels of that clientele mean that there are opportunities to reconsider delivery points for extension services and to use advanced delivery technologies such as telecommunications and computer networks. The geography of extension can be very different than it once was—crossing political boundaries and being more attuned to the "market" in which a product or service of the land grant university can be applied (see Recommendation 3).
Second, the existence of a private sector role in providing technology, information, and advice to farmers means that public extension can redirect its efforts toward those areas where private incentives are lacking. Extension must complement rather than compete with the private sector.
Third, a significant challenge stems from the changing structure of the farm sector. Large, commercial farmers increasingly seek (as comments offered at the committee's public forums suggest) a more direct connection to university-based specialists. These farmers report that the county agent is often too much the "generalist" for their highly specialized needs. At the same time that many large commercial farmers are seeking more direct access to the most up-to-date university science, many smaller and "alternative" farmers feel that their needs are not sufficiently met by current county-based extension efforts. Industrialized, or vertically integrated, agriculture poses other issues for extension. Farmers contracting with vertically integrated firms may have little flexibility in choosing how to produce the goods in which they specialize. The seed, animals, or feed used for production may be owned by the integrating firm, which has its own technical and professional staff that can provide extremely context-specific information based on proprietary data to which extension has no access. For example, improved genetics, feed rations, building technology, and on-site consulting have all been packaged in hog contracts (Kalaitzandonakes and Bullock, 1995).
Finally, in a country of few farmers and many consumers—and where the population is predominately urban and suburban—extension finds itself struggling to balance its responsiveness to farm, rural, urban, and suburban needs. Many believe relevance to the nonfarm—and nonrural—clientele is essential to support for extension's future but that the traditional base of support should not be lost either. Extension must be relevant to modern society; however, it cannot be all things to all people.
Private versus Public Roles in Agricultural Extension
The private sector has a growing role in food and agricultural technology transfer and information dissemination. The word "privatization" used in a broad sense means introducing or increasing private sector participation, as opposed to meaning only a transfer of public assets to the private sector. In the broad sense, significant amounts of privatization have occurred both in the United States and other nations.
As a result of budgetary pressures, many countries have examined alternative arrangements for delivery of extension services, including public expenditure reductions, changes in approaches to generating tax revenue, charges for government extension services, commercialization and privatization (Howell, 1985). According to Le Gouts (1991), three principal policies have been followed by governments: (1) public financing by the taxpayer only for the kinds of services that are of direct concern to the general public, (2) direct charging for some individual services with direct return such as improved income, and (3) mixed funding shared between public and private professional association contributions for some services where the benefits are shared (Le Gouts, 1991).
Some governments have gone considerably further. New Zealand's Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' agricultural advisory service, having introduced the user-pays philosophy in 1985, now operates as a self-supporting commercial consultancy business fully owned by a private firm—Wrightson LTD (Retch, 1995). The Netherlands has privatized about one-half of its public extension service by transferring field staff to farmer associations, where initially they receive government financial support. The extension components and staff responsible for linking research and the privatized services, policy preparation, implementation, and regulatory tasks have remained under the Ministry of Agriculture (Le Gouts, 1991). Dutch farmers pay for extension partially through membership fees to farmer associations. In Chile, vouchers distributed by the government allow farmers to purchase private extension services. In the Australian state of Victoria, a form of privatization has been proposed (Cary, 1993).
The United States has much to learn by examining these and other nations' experiences. Clearly, a considerable amount of privatization of agricultural extension has taken and is continuing to take place in the United States. As discussed above, US. farmers purchase advice along with inputs, they hire private consultants, and they subscribe to informational services. Additionally, contract employees of integrated firms and owner-operators of large commercial entities often use proprietary technologies, such as genetically engineered crop varieties that have been developed by the firm, and are provided internal technical advice regarding the management of these resources to meet company specifications for the end product (Postlewait et al., 1993).
The committee believes that the increasing role of the private sector in information and technology transfer is particularly welcome in an era of budget tightening and increased efficiency in the use of public funds. However, the committee is also concerned that the efficiency gains that can accompany "privatization" of extension come also with equity implications. As discussed in Chapter 2, the US. production sector is highly concentrated but also contains large numbers of small- and medium-scale, limited-resource, alternative, and niche-market farmers. This group of producers may have much less opportunity and far fewer resources to purchase information and technical advice and less internal knowledge of environmental and public health standards and means of meeting them. Public extension must have a continuing and important role in assuring access by these farmers to knowledge regarding farm technologies and agronomic practices, such as biological control and crop rotations, and to information on market opportunities, financial strategies, and public policies. In fact, consistent with Recommendation 2, it is particularly important for public extension to seek out and target those producer groups most in need of extension and least able to pay; it is this effort that would truly reconnect today's agricultural extension service to its original mandate.
Indeed, the full spectrum of producer groups, types, and sizes needs adequate public support in order to maintain diversity in agricultural production during accelerated rates of agricultural industrialization. Uniformity in plant or animal genetic stock, in production practices, or in approach to production can make a biologically based sector that, like farming, is subject to the vagaries of weather, disease, and pests, extremely vulnerable. Small-scale and limited-resource farmers are important contributors to the diversity of approaches, practices, cultivators, and animal stock in US. agriculture. Furthermore, it is to a large degree the small-scale and part-time producers who fulfill the demand for direct- and niche-marketed farm and food products.
Extension funds provided to 1890 Lucas, according to a NASULGC (1995) report, have been prioritized to educational initiatives designed to address "new pathways" for a large at-risk audience generally out of the mainstream of society's opportunities. Federal extension funds specifically for the 17 1890 colleges total $25.5 million (about 5 percent of total federal funds for extension); these federal funds, unlike those allocated by formula to 1862 institutions, do not require a state match. In fact, state support of 1890 extension programs totals $1.25 million, or less than 5 percent of federal extension funding; and several states with 1890 colleges provide them no extension support at all (Ellen Danes, 1996, USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, personal communication). The lack of matching funds means that extension programs specifically targeted to the needs of limited-resource farmers and low-income communities have fewer resources than other extension programs. The committee offers the following recommendation with the expectation that it will expand resources for extension programs directed to the information and technology needs of limited-resource farmers and low-income communities.
RECOMMENDATION 14. The federal government should require that states match formula extension funds going to 1890 institutions in the same manner as required for 1862s.
Complementarily between Public and Private Extension Providers
During the committee's public forums, some college of agriculture clientele expressed support for public agricultural extension based on their belief that it is a neutral source that can validate other sources without bias. As the private component of extension services expands, there may indeed be a particular need for public extension to increasingly play the role of an unbiased arbiter of private services and advice.
In some states input suppliers and private consultants have become a significant source of direct information for commercial farmers; however, these private providers often obtain their information from university extension specialists who offer special on-site or university-based training for both public extension agents and private consultants. One way to look at this relationship is to see extension personnel as wholesalers of technical information and private consultants as, increasingly, the retailers (Feller et al., 1987).1 In the wholesaler's role, the extension specialists' connection to the university and its research base (in fact, extension specialists are often researchers, too) gives them a unique advantage—specialists may maintain laboratories to identify diseases and insect pests and may be national experts on generic problems such as the treatment of particular diseases, while their private sector coworkers provide in situ testing of the specialists' research theories. Extension advisors or specialists frequently collaborate with farmers or use university plots to test product samples supplied by seed and chemical companies (Postlewait et al., 1993). Opportunities for complementary roles between public and private providers of extension services should be welcomed and pursued, particularly if the public sector can fill a unique role that private providers cannot.
Despite the growing and important role for the private sector in providing technical advice to farms and agribusiness, the private sector will not adapt and disseminate the full range of university knowledge and findings of importance and benefit to all participants in the food and agricultural system. For example, the private sector has insufficient incentive to transfer agronomic management practices and technologies that reduce off-farm pollution (unless these technologies can also be shown to increase short-term returns to producers). This is because even though the social benefits of such improvements may be high, farmers and private firms cannot capture those benefits in the form of higher profits.
Roles for which Extension Is Most Qualified
Extension has had an important role in advancing the adoption of ecologically based pest management strategies, such as integrated pest management (IPM) (National Research Council, 1996). Ecologically based pest management strategies are a "risky" innovation for many farmers (because of the uncertain impact on profit); it is, nevertheless, an important means of reducing dependence on chemical pest-control methods by integrating chemical controls with biological controls, scouting, and cultural methods. A study by NAPIA et al. (1988) found that frequency of contact with extension was positively and significantly correlated with adoption of integrated pest management systems in four of the nine states included in their study. According to Postlewait et al. (1993:p. 284), extension advisors "are the major promoters of integrated pest management and sustainable agricultural programs, especially at the early stages before these programs are
Independent Crop Consultants
Farmers are increasingly using the services of independent crop consultants, who number about 3,500 nationally. Independent crop consultants are not associated with chemical suppliers, and many are specialists in integrated pest management and advise clients on nonchemical pest management strategies. Based on a national extension service survey of independent agricultural crop consultants, consultant-recommended practices most frequently used by clients are fertility management, crop rotation, planting pest-resistant varieties, and pest scouting. Of the total acreage of all crops under contract with consultants, corn acres account for about 32 percent, soybean acres for 19 percent, wheat acres for 13 percent, cotton acres for 17 percent, and rice acres for 2 percent. Thirty-seven percent of consultants indicated that universities are their primary source of information on nonchemical tactics. Information from other consultants was ranked most important by 23 percent of consultants. (The primary source of information for these other consultants was not reported.) The most valued means of obtaining information were seminars (first), workshops (second), and on-farm demos (third).
SOURCE: Natural Resources and Environment Division, Economic Research Service, US. Department of Agriculture, AERIE Updates: Crop Consultants, Number 3, 1995.
embodied with sellable commodities and products." Additionally, they find public extension is well situated to (a) provide information to public agencies, such as water quality control boards, about environmental conditions and the practices of farmers; (b) assist governments in establishing and enforcing environmental regulations, and (c) act as a liaison between farmers and confirmers on environmental issues.
In serving US. agriculture specifically, as well as US. society generally, an increasingly important role that public extension can and should playpen not likely to be taken on by the private sectors that of coordinating and bringing together diverse participants in and perspectives on the food and agricultural system. For example, extension can take an active role in bringing the needs and perspectives of consumers and other "nontraditional clientele" to the process of setting priorities at the college. In a consumer-driven system, it is especially important to draw the public into assessments of new food and agricultural technologies, such as genetically engineered varieties or growth promoters, to enhance the public's understanding of these technologies, and to assess their potential for widespread acceptance. In this sense, the committee believes that public extension in the future should be as much an integrator as it is a disseminator: an integrator of diverse players and perspectives in the food and fiber system.
Postlewait et al. (1993) argue that extension is also an ideal candidate to complement the efforts of university-based technology transfer offices to disseminate biotechnology innovations for agriculture. They argue that specialists can support technology transfer offices in preparing feasibility and profitability analyses and identifying potential clients. They can also work directly with university researchers to move innovations from the test tube to the field. As core members of interdisciplinary research teams, specialists can direct biotechnology research to specific agricultural problems and to the appropriate adaptation of innovations. Further, they can act as intermediaries between regulatory agencies and biotechnology practitioners.
Postlewaite et al. (1993) note that county-based farm advisors have important roles, too, in identifying farmers' needs for new products and leading local field tests to help identify the market potential of new biotechnology products. This latter effort may be particularly important for smaller biotechnology companies that are at a disadvantage in competition with large chemical and seed companies. The case these smaller companies can make for an active role on the part of cooperative extension, in coordination with technology transfer offices, rests on the heterogeneous nature of agricultural systems—thousands of plants, limited growing season for testing, and the need for site-specific adaptations—and the relative lack of a commercial network for dissemination and commercialization of agricultural biotechnology.
Serving Urban, Suburban, and Nonfarm Rural Clientele
U.S. extension may be unique in relation to other countries' agricultural extension services because of its relatively strong presence in nonfarm communities. U.S. extension began with a focus on farmers and farm families; but as people migrated from farms to rural towns and to cities, the services in these counties shifted. Where people went, so went extension's local funding base. The relocation of the farm population drew extension into rural towns to assist in household and family management. Success with traditional 4-H Clubs for farm and rural youth helped prepare extension for "youth at risk" and other leadership and citizenship programs in urban and suburban as well as rural areas. Extension's history of helping farm families meet their food needs and, in wartime, enhancing food production (through Victory Gardens) laid the basis for extension's successful urban gardening and Master Gardener programs. Extension is not necessarily the only or best agency to lead these nonfarm efforts, but its historical experiences and successes position it to have an important role.
Over the decades, amendments to Smith-Lever legislation broadened extension's mandate (National Research Council, 1995a). For example, a 1961 amendment authorized Smith-Lever funds to be used for resource and community development extension. Legislation in 1972 (the Federal Rural Development Act) authorized extension work in rural communities in agriculture and nonagricultural fields and funds for rural development and small-farm research and extension. Legislation in 1978 (the Resource Extension Act) authorized funding for extension programs in forestry and other renewable national resources. Additionally, since 1955 special extension programs with specific designations have been added and funded by Congress with supplementary funds in addition to Smith-Lever formula funds and formula funds for extension programs at 1890 colleges. Funds are allocated to these specified programs in three ways: (1) designated by Congress for specific institutions, (2) allocated using the Smith-Lever formula, and (3) allocated competitively. Federal funds for these specified extension programs currently total $128 million; about one-half of this amount is designated for the expanded food and nutrition education program (EFNEP) and about one-fifth is for "national extension priorities" in water quality, youth and family at risk, sustainable agriculture systems, and food safety and quality (National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 1995).
Although this allocation differs significantly from state to state, today more than one-half of the time of extension staff, nationally, is devoted to programs that are applicable in both rural and urban areas. Included are programs focused on community, youth, family, and leadership development; other social and economic issues; and nutrition, diet, and health education (National Research Council, 1995a). In spite of the fact that many of these critical issues, such as nutrition, are vital to people regardless of where they live, there are those who argue that extension should concentrate on farm production and rural problems (Terry, 1995).
As extension programs evolved in response to local needs and congressional mandates, the focus began to diverge from that of the research programs of the colleges of agriculture. Extension—particularly through the work of the county agents—puts more emphasis on human nutrition, diet, and health and on social and behavioral science issues, such as economic, community, and human development, than do the research programs of most colleges of agriculture. Most of those programs continue to be more focused on plant and animal sciences and natural resource management issues (National Research Council, 1995a).
The diversification of extension's programs does credit to its responsiveness to community needs but has not come without problems. Some of these have already been alluded to in this chapter and in Chapter 2. First, as extension resources have become more diffused, there has been considerable debate and confusion regarding extension's mission and mandate (see, for example, Terry, 1995). Second, extension's nonfarm (or, more accurately, nonproduction) programs appear to be less well linked to the research programs of the college of agriculture, which is often still extension's administrative home. Third, the role of USDA as the primary federal partner in these cooperative extension programs may be in question, as well as the linkages of these programs to related federal efforts. An additional issue, from the standpoint of analyzing the outcomes and effectiveness of these programs, is that their benefits are not readily measured as contributions to economic output or productivity (see Recommendation 13).
The committee believes that extension's programs must be broadly relevant to the U.S. public, not just the farm clientele. In fact, its future, as the farm population shrinks, depends on consumer support. The important issue to resolve is not whether extension serves farm or nonfarm clientele; the key issue is whether publicly financed extension programs provide public goods in the national interest. Such goods include enhanced human health and safety, economic opportunity, environmental quality, and sound information for public and private decision making on important public policy issues related to the food and agricultural system. There are nonfarm extension programs that meet these criteria as well as nonfarm extension programs that should be provided by the private sector or privately financed by users. (For example, garden advice tailored to the questions of an individual suburban gardener should probably be paid for by the gardener, unless local communities have specifically dedicated their tax dollars to agents that provide such individualized advice.) However, youth and family-at-risk programs may promote the national interest in reducing crime, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy and in strengthening families and, thus, warrant federal support.
The Research Link
With respect to the link to science, of particular concern to the committee is the need to connect researchers, extension specialists, and county agents in the fields of human nutrition, rural development, and social services. The connection between nutrition education programs and research has been recognized in the past as relatively weak for a number of reasons, including
- the relatively small share of experiment station research devoted to human nutrition;
- the lower ratio of university-based nutrition specialists to county agents with nutrition education responsibilities (in relation to the ratio of university-based agricultural specialists to county agents); and
- the lack of integration in the field of human nutrition itself (that is, among the disciplines of food science, human nutrition, and home economics) (Feller et al., 1984).
There are also many different university locations for nutritional science research. As
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
Multidisciplinary Foundation of Food and Nutritional Science
Although the work of food scientists has expanded and improved our food supply, many new challenges remain. Collaboration among engineers, microbiologists, molecular biologists, food scientists, and nutritionists is needed to create foods that are nutritious, palatable, and safe. Thus, nutritionists and food scientists must engage in interdisciplinary efforts with each other and with basic biological and social scientists.
Research in the biological sciences shows that some nutrients play key roles in regulating metabolism. Future efforts to identify nutrient-gene interactions will require the attention of nutritionists well trained in molecular, cellular, and integrative biology. Clinical nutritionists have demonstrated the role of diet in maintaining physiological function and preventing chronic disease, but future advances in understanding these relationships require joint efforts with physicians and biologists.
Designing successful public health and community intervention programs requires an understanding of human behavior, economics, epidemiology, anthropology, and political science. Interdisciplinary efforts among nutritionists and behavioral and social scientists are needed to meet this challenge. It is essential, therefore, that students in the nutrition and food sciences develop an understanding of the basic science of a related discipline such as molecular biology, microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry, engineering, medical science, sociology, or political science.
SOURCE: National Research Council. 1994b. Opportunities in the Nutrition and Food Sciences. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
of public support for extension. The sense of the committee is that such programs could be strengthened, however, through a fuller utilization of the land grant university's resources in building the science base for nonfarm programs, stronger contributions from the social science disciplines, and synergies with related public service programs of other (non-USDA) federal agencies where there is much additional pertinent expertise. Strengthening these programs requires a commitment from the land grant university as a whole, as well as from the college of agriculture and its extension service. Such a commitment provides the university the opportunity to enhance its role in public service. The committee therefore offers the following set of three recommendations:
RECOMMENDATION 15. Extension programs must be underpinned by an academic research base in the land grant university. Consequently, the committee strongly encourages land grant universities to embrace the mandate of outreach and extension and to ensure that the entire university is accessible and responsive as the research base for farm and nonfarm extension programs. To accomplish this, administrative structures, incentives, and reward recognition must be generated within the university to promote the commitment and involvement of faculty, staff, and administrators across the university to actively participate in outreach, extension, and public service.
RECOMMENDATION 16. Federal agencies (operating under the auspices of a Cabinet-level task force) should identify appropriate opportunities to link programs at the Health and Human Services, Commerce, and other departments to USDA-based extension, especially in the delivery of services to nonfarm clientele.
RECOMMENDATION 17. The research base for extension's nonfarm programs, such as community and economic development, human development, and public policy, should be enhanced by strengthening the land grant universities' applied research capacity in economics, sociology, public health, and related disciplines and their applications to extension programs.
Financing Public Extension
Extension has considerable opportunity to take advantage of incentives and ability to exact payment for specific extension services. Doing so allows broadly derived public funds, such as those raised from general tax revenues, to be targeted toward programs with broad benefits. User fees should increasingly support extension services that provide primarily private benefits to individual producers or other users. Private benefits include such services as providing building plans, feeding rations, soil testing, pest scouting, and disease diagnostics; individualized advice for home gardeners; and individualized advice on tax and investment strategies. Providing such services for a fee has the potential to sharpen the clientele orientation of extension providers and the standards for service because failure to be competitive in providing quality services will result in a lack of business.
On the other hand there are foreseeable problems with providing fee-based services. The committee believes the great strength of the U.S. cooperative extension service has been its historical link to university research. In pursuing commercial opportunities, one problem is that extension advisors may reorient toward the marketplace and away from the university base. Thus, the committee believes the most important focus of public extension must be on those problems that lack incentives for private support but have the potential to enhance the provision of public goods. An additional problem is that there will be limited-resource producers who simply cannot pay and yet would derive great benefits from extension's services. Options to consider in order to guarantee services to low-income clientele include:
- means testing to determine eligibility for free public services;
- designating certain counties, where limited-resource farmers are a significant portion of the population, as free-service counties; and
- providing vouchers to qualifying limited-resource farmers.
RECOMMENDATION 18. New and innovative approaches to augment extension financing should be pursued, as appropriate, taking into account implications for access to extension by limited-resource farmers and other limited-resource clientele groups.
Allocation Federal Extension Funds
One of the most important roles for the federal partner is to fund programs that deserve public support but that would be underfunded by states because the benefits are broadly shared across state lines. Additionally, federal support may be crucial to the success of a program with primarily local or state benefits that has the potential to become a national model for other state extension efforts. Urban youth programs, which have their roots in rural youth programs and a massive commitment of volunteers, may be particularly worthy of federal support and recognition on these grounds. Extension's youth programs offer a vehicle for bringing together rural and urban residents, encompassing a diversity of cultural backgrounds, and instilling the citizenship and technical skills that help pave the way into adulthood during difficult and challenging times for young people.
The federal government now supports cooperative extension through base funding (Smith-Lever funds and base funding for the 1890 colleges) and specified programs. Smith-Lever funds total $273 million; they are allocated to states by formula, most of which is based on a state's share of U.S. farm and rural population. The argument for the formula approach to funding extension activities is that it provides a stable funding base allowing extension experts to respond on a continuing basis to critical national, state, and local issues as and where such needs arise. Additionally, peculiar to the land grant colleges of agriculture, formula funding permitted the evolution of a system in which the individual time and effort of many faculty are split among some combination of research, extension, and teaching. Those faculty whose research appointment is supported by formula funds and who also have extension (or teaching) appointments are well positioned to link their research with ongoing extension (or teaching) activities.
Arguments against formula funding include the lack of effective means to determine accountability, in terms of how the funds are used, and the lack of peer review of the programs and their methodologies, which would provide incentives to update program content, priorities, and delivery techniques. There is a special need in today's environment—characterized by high public demand for accountability, a rapidly changing knowledge base, and rapidly evolving opportunities for delivery mechanisms—for the incentives and rewards associated with competitive funding of extension programs. Additionally, using rural and farm population as a base for allocating federal dollars fails to capture the broadened applicability of cooperative extension programs to urban and suburban clientele or the broader consumer constituency for agricultural and food systems knowledge, know-how, and performance. The committee therefore makes the following pair of recommendations:
RECOMMENDATION 19. A new formula by which base food and agricultural extension funds are allocated within the land grant system should be designed and implemented to accurately reflect the full range of food and agricultural extension service beneficiaries.
RECOMMENDATION 20. All national extension initiatives should be available on a competitive basis to land grant and non-land grant institutions. Consistent with the committee's prior recommendations (Recommendations 3, 4, 15, and 17), these competitive grants should provide incentives for
- multistate, multi-institution, or regional extension programs;
- new and innovative approaches to the delivery of extension services, particularly where access can be expanded significantly and benefits shared across political boundaries;
- programs that significantly improve the science base for extension programs, such as those dealing with human nutrition education and social science issues; and
- programs that enhance the public service component of academic programs.
Summary And Conclusions
Extension is likely to evolve differently around the country. In fact it must do so if it is to continue to be responsive to local and state agricultural and community needs, which vary from locality to locality. Extension in California, the nation's most populous and also most agricultural state, does not and will not resemble extension in West Virginia, one of the nation's most rural but least agricultural states. In California, extension is focused on agricultural production and natural resource management and the dissemination and adoption of less-chemical intensive pest management strategies. In West Virginia, extension is much more heavily focused on community resource and economic development, family development, and youth development (National Research Council, 1995a).
Differing university contexts and needs will also drive the future of extension at the state level. For example, where universities are heavily committed to basic research,
extension will increasingly engage in integrative and adaptive research. In other university environments, extension may specialize in technical advice for a fee or the coordination and facilitation of community activities around food and agricultural issues. Despite these differences, the following important attributes must distinguish the nationwide extension system of tomorrow. It will have to be
- results driven,
- relevant to consumers and producers,
- science based, and
- more efficient in both delivery mechanisms and the use of public funds.