February 21, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

As we begin the new millennium, we can look back over the past century and applaud some of America's great success stories. The land-grant university system is one of them.

The land-grant system has been around since 1862. The idea behind it was simple: the federal government would give land to each state that would then be sold to fund a public university. Later on, the government enhanced the system by adding Agricultural Experiment Stations and the Cooperative Extension Service.

The idea worked well โ€“ so well, in fact, the land-grant system is heralded today as one of the key factors behind the success of U.S. agriculture. So powerful has been the land-grant system's impact on the farming industry, a national publication recently put it "No. 1" on its list of Top Ten 20th Century Impacts on agricultural.

"Those of us in agriculture owe a debt of gratitude to land-grant universities for the position that U.S. agriculture is in โ€“ the best in the world," said Allen Dever, publisher of Doane's Agricultural Report.

According to Dever, when he and his editors sat down to plan their December 31st, 1999 issue, they took an inventory of what they considered the major factors that shaped U.S. agriculture during the past 100 years.

"Of course is was relatively easy to come up with things like the introduction of hybrid seed corn or different kinds of production practices, but the one common thread we came back to again and again was education and research," Dever said. "Research is more or less the driving science, and then Extension is the mechanism that brings that science to the farm and turns it into action," he said.

Kentucky's flagship land-grant university, the University of Kentucky, historically has been a major player in bringing innovation and profit to the industry. The UK College of Agriculture pioneered conservation tillage. It also is a leader in dozens of other research and education endeavors, including forage and grazing technology, burley tobacco baling, float systems for tobacco and vegetables, alternative tobacco curing systems, timber management, equine medicine, insect pest management, animal nutrition, plant and animal disease control, biotechnology, and agriculture distance learning.

Much of the success of Kentucky's land-grant agriculture system has been due to its focus on meeting the needs of local people. UK and its sister land-grant institution, Kentucky State University, fulfill the land-grant mission in all of the state's 120 counties. Many farmers believe a strong Kentucky land-grant system is critical in the 21st century.

"Research and Extension are needed now more than ever because we don't know what's going to happen down the road," said Larry Jeffries, Henry County farmer. "Farmers aren't good at grouping together and solving their common problems, so they need leadership from the land-grant university."

"One in five Kentuckians is involved in agriculture or ag commodity processing, and we desperately need new research," said Patty Ann Moorhead, Pendleton County farm owner and State Extension Council member. "We have to make Kentucky commodities that will sell not only domestically, but also globally. Being involved in a global economy is a fact, and its happening now โ€“ it's not something we can put off. The College of Agriculture and its research and education can help us be competitive in that global market."