I have been associated with Extension folks for 40 years, but this week I was
immersed! I was one of a half-dozen speakers participating in two workshops to provide Extension personnel and other ag professionals with resources for assisting beginning farmers.
Training is the life of an extension agent – both receiving and disseminating the latest information for farmers. This year, Extension is celebrating its 100th year anniversary with the signing of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and now it is rolling out new resources for beginning farmers which I will describe at the end of this post.
How did Extension get started?
Extension is an outgrowth of the Morrill Act, signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. The Morrill Act gave authority for the federal government to provide land for colleges, at least one for each state, where a leading objective of the college included teaching agriculture. The University of Maryland is an example of a land-grant college.
In 1890, a second Morrill Act was passed to increase federal support for land-grant colleges and Congress added a “Separate but Equal” provision for the establishment of colleges for African-Americans. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is an example of a college established as a result of the Morrill Act of 1890, with a mission targeted to diverse audiences with special emphasis on those with limited resources to help them improve their quality of life.
Of course, a classroom setting is an effective approach to teach agriculture, but it
does not reach all those who are already farming and those who can not afford to attend college. In the late 19th century, Seaman Knapp became convinced that demonstrations carried out by farmers were the most effective way to disseminate good farming methods. He is considered the father of Extension and believed that “What a man hears, he may doubt; what he sees he may also doubt; but what he does, he cannot doubt.” He helped create the establishment of experimental research stations across the nation.
Extension is part of the University of Maryland system. The University shares agricultural research and provides training in its Extension offices throughout the state. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is home to the Small Farm Institute which “
Beginning Farmer Success
In the last 30 years, the percentage of farmers 34 and younger has dropped from 16% of all farmers to 6% and the farming community has become increasingly alarmed that there will not be enough farmers in the future. Therefore the USDA provided monies for states to apply to initiate Beginning Farmer and Rancher programs. The University of Maryland Extension received a grant in 2012 and staff held two workshops this week to inform extension agents and other ag professionals about the resources that have been developed. Extension has put together an impressive website of beginning farmer resources on its new webpage.
Extension staff also introduced the other members of the Beginner Farmer grant team: Future Harvest CASA (Beginning Farmer Training Program) and Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (Maryland FarmLINK and Mentor Match Program). Finally, staff recognized the Extension Agents who have set up their own beginning farmer training programs over the years and they shared their experiences and suggestions for running successful programs.
Of course, farmers have many diverse interests and philosophies as to proper agricultural methods. However, all will benefit by starting out using the resources of Maryland Extension.