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A U. S. Department of Agriculture employee plants a new lawn using a mule drawn tiller in June 1931. Soybeans planted in the spring, in front of the buildings, are cultivated through the summer. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.


Landmark U.S. farm bills and other significant legislation passed by the U.S. Congress since the late 19th century has shaped the history of NIFA and its predecessor agencies. The agency’s history is largely tied to the establishment of land-grant institutions and delivery of cooperative extension services.

Morrill Acts, 1862 and 1890

The Morrill Act of 1862 created land-grant institutions so that working class citizens could have equal access to higher education with a focus on farming and mechanical skills. Subsequently the Morrill Act of 1890 established the 1890 and 1994 land-grant institutions to address educational inequality among African Americans and Native Americans.

Hatch Act, 1887

NIFA’s roots go back to 1888, a year after the Hatch Act authorized strengthening the capacity of land-grant universities to research agricultural problems faced by rural citizens. The Act funded land-grant colleges in order to create a series of agricultural experiment stations, laying a foundation for the cooperative extension services created by the 1914 Smith Lever Act Extension Act. To support and finance this mission, USDA established the earliest predecessor to NIFA — the Office of Experiment Stations.

Smith-Lever Act of 1914

The 1914 Smith Lever Act Extension created a Cooperative Extension Service associated with each land-grant institution. This partnership between agricultural colleges and USDA enables the dissemination of information produced by the experiment stations’ research.

Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994

Prior to the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, agencies that preceded NIFA were largely established as a result of Executive Orders or directives from the Secretary of Agriculture. 

The Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 merged the former Cooperative State Research Service and the former Extension Service into a single agency — the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. The merger made a single agency responsible for allocating funds and providing leadership of research, education and extension.

Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill)

The 2008 Farm Bill established NIFA to take the place of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. NIFA is responding to changing times and landscapes, addressing 21st century challenges such as food security, climate change, natural resource and environmental sustainability, bioenergy, childhood obesity prevention, and food safety.


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