Cooperative extension programs help farmers stay in business
May 8 marks the 102nd anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established the Cooperative Extension System, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land-grant universities.
In addition to research and teaching, the nation’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have a third and critical mission — extension. Through extension, land-grant colleges and universities bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families, and young people. Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country — to farmers, and the citizens of rural and urban communities. Extension translates knowledge gained through research and education directly to farmers and communities across the nation to make a positive difference in their lives.
A recent study from Penn State University estimates that federal cooperative extension programs have helped more than 137,000 farmers stay in business since 1985. Between 1984 and 2010, 490,000 farmers left farming, and without cooperative extension and the underlying research, the country would have lost 28 percent more farmers. The research also suggests that cooperative extension programs serve as effective job creation programs and provide an opportunity for farmers to share new information with one another.
According to a 2015 Battelle study on food, nutrition and health services provided by extension professionals, the “positive changes that they bring about at the individual, family, community, state and national levels are unparalleled.” For example, among other significant findings, the study reported that:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) delivered through extension is much more efficient than through other providers (in 2010, $36/person vs. $142/person)
- 40 to 90% of participants improved nutrition behaviors and 40 to 60% of participants increased physical activity;
- Every $1 spent on Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) results in savings on food expenditures of $2.48 through smarter shopping behavior, meal planning and enhanced use of low-cost recipes and more home-cooked meals; and the
- Potential long-term healthcare cost savings associated with EFNEP are in the range of $3.62 to $12.50 in savings per $1 spent as a result of healthier diets and reduced chronic disease.
The hallmarks of the extension program — openness, accessibility, and service — illuminate how cooperative extension brings evidence-based science and modern technologies to farmers, consumers, and families. To learn more about the future of extension in the 21st century, see a presentation by Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.