Extension service turns 100

The extension service will celebrate its 100th birthday Thursday.
It began when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act on May 8, 1914.
The Smith-Lever Act authorized funds to establish the national cooperative extension service and the cooperative structure among federal, state, and local institutions that is still used today.
By the establishment of the national Cooperative Extension Service, an outreach program was created to educate the public about the latest agricultural practices and technology. It dramatically increased agricultural productivity and improved lives in rural America.
However, two other acts of Congress had set the foundation prior: The Morrill Act of 1862 and the Hatch Act of 1887.
The Morrill Act established the land grant university system. It designated a public university in each state to receive federal funds to ensure training in agriculture and engineering.
The term “land grant” refers to the fact that the government allowed the sale of federal land to provide funds. Ohio State University was created in 1870 as the designated land grant institution for Ohio.
The Hatch Act established federal funds for the Agricultural Experiment Station System. This provided funds to develop agricultural research stations across a state. This system was to be connected to the university system.
Ohio’s experiment station is called the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, which has its administrative office and main research facility in Wooster.
The Northwest Agricultural Research Station, near Hoytville, is one of the many research facilities across the state.
Many believed the scientific research being completed as a result of the Morrill Act and Hatch Act was not being shared with the general public, but was “locked up in the ivory towers” of the universities.
It was also believed that the public would benefit more if an individual was positioned in the community who was involved with the process, understood the applications of the university research, and the local needs.
This outreach approach of the land grant university evolved in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.
A formal outreach program was initiated with the McLaughlin Bill in 1909. It failed because of political disagreements about federal or state control.
A compromise by Secretary of Agriculture James Houston, a former land grant university president, and the land grant universities became the Smith-Lever Act. It was based on two premises: a local presence to transfer university information, and federal financial support.
The system would have three distinct levels: county, state, and federal. The outreach program would rely on county agents, would be primarily managed by the state via the land grant institution, and would receive partial financial aid from the Department of Agriculture.
This compromise resulted in a national extension program based at the county level that emphasized agriculture and home economics. The various agricultural and home clubs for youth were eventually incorporated and became 4-H.
Extension today is still funded based on a partnership among the governments. Programs have evolved as the population has become more urban and less rural.
However, the importance of a local connection has continued the past 100 years.
Many Ohio counties, including Hancock, have Ohio State University educators, or agents, responsible for applied and practical programs in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development.
The primary goal of Ohio State University Extension is to strengthen families and communities, prepare youth, enhance agriculture and the environment, and advance employment and income opportunities.
The country will formally recognize the 100th birthday of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act in Washington on Thursday.
Britta Fenstermaker, of the Hancock County 4-H Teen Advisory Council, will be part of the selected Ohio Extension delegation attending the celebration event.
The celebration of 100 years of extension will continue at the Hancock County Fair, Aug. 27-Sept. 1; Ohio State Fair, July 23-Aug. 3; Farm Science Review, Sept. 16-18; Ohio 4-H Celebration of Youth, Sept. 20; and Ohio State’s homecoming game, Oct.18.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.


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