“Knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” (Continental Congress in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787)

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Lynn Olsen was the former editor of Progressive Forage. She now works as the circulation team lea...

The Morrill Act of 1862 helped to create land-grant colleges throughout the United States. Their purpose was “...to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, ...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Starting in 1887, Congress also funded agricultural experiment stations and various categories of agricultural and veterinary research under direction of the land-grant universities.

Later the need to disseminate the knowledge gained at the land-grant colleges to farmers was recognized, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 started federal funding of cooperative extension, with the land-grant universities’ agents being sent to virtually every county of every state.

As the years have gone by, cuts in spending by the federal government have hit many of these programs hard. Positions for teaching and research have been eliminated, and funding for research has dwindled.

Other similar programs through the USDA, such as those associated with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have also been scaled back.


These cuts may not seem like a very big deal to some people, but they could potentially become a crisis for the agricultural community.

During the recent annual meeting of the Midwest Forage Association (MFA), Mike Rankin, a crops and soil agent in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin and vice-president of the MFA, discussed the need for funding for forage research.

He indicated that the value of forage crops is not matched by the amount of research done on crops that are used for forage.

Neal Martin, director of USDA’s U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, echoed that sentiment during the recent annual meeting of the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC). He said that the need for forage research and Extension has “never been greater.”

At the same meeting, Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist, indicated that since 1984, the number of land-grand researchers doing forage-related work has decreased by 60 percent, and the number of forage or livestock teaching positions has declined by 40 percent.

Why is this so important? I believe it can be summed up in one simple word: food. The world’s population will continue their need to eat to sustain life.

Agriculture is a foundation for science and industry, and forage crops, in particular, are key to the future of sustainable agriculture.

For the past two years, and again in 2013, the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance has sponsored a “D.C. fly-in” where members go to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers about important policy and research funding decisions related to forages.

They try to emphasize the value and importance of forages, particularly alfalfa, to not only the agricultural community but also the nation, as a whole.

I am not necessarily a proponent of big government spending, but as budget cuts continue to be made, there is a need to keep the University Extension program and money for alfalfa and forage teaching and research in the spotlight. Their critical value to the human population cannot be overemphasized.

I would encourage you to talk to your friends and neighbors about the forage you grow and the industry you are associated with.

Let them know why it is important, and help educate them about the need for continued funding for these programs.

Get involved with organizations like the MFA, AFGC , NAFA or your state forage association. And be an active participant in encouraging your local, state and national government representatives to make wise decisions as they relate to agriculture.

Only then will we avoid what could potentially become devastating losses to our industry.