Universities connect to communities through extension, Clemson official says.
Clemson University’s founder, Thomas Green Clemson, lived a life in agriculture. And today, county extension agents continue to play a central role in agriculture throughout the state.
John Kelly, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, told the National Association of County Agricultural Agents annual conference at the Charleston Area Convention Center agriculture is at the heart of Clemson University’s history.
More and more, land-grant universities are asked to justify their existences. Yet, the inherent connection between a community and its land-grant university is through its county Extension agent, he said.
“It’s wonderful for the university to have that kind of relationship with communities across South Carolina, and it’s quite a responsibility to live up to,” Kelly said. “Nothing reaches people like a personal connection.”
South Carolina hosted hundreds of agents from across the United States who work for the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land-grant universities in each state.
In South Carolina, Clemson University operates extension offices in each of the state’s 46 counties.
Programs during the five-day meeting ranged from traditional agriculture topics, such as farm and ranch management, livestock production and controlling insects and weeds, to recent scientific advances in areas like remote-sensing, which employs such techniques as satellite-based measurements to improve crop production.
S.C. Rep. Chip Limehouse welcomed the conference to the Lowcountry Monday. Limehouse, who serves on the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee and chairs the S.C. House Subcommittee on Higher Education, said his family has worked in agriculture in South Carolina for more than 300 years.
“We’re very proud of our agriculture in this state,” he said.
On Monday, Cathy Woteki, chief scientist and undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said there are many reasons to appreciate the value of Extension.
This year marks the 150th anniversaries of the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Morrill Act, which established the land-grant university system in the U.S.
The act revolutionized education and agriculture in the United State, Woteki said, and helped level the playing field for the industry by providing access to education. Since the act’s inception, more than 20 million students have graduated from land-grant universities, she said.
“That’s a legacy to be very proud of,” Woteki said.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension Service. As its centennial approaches, she said, Extension must adapt to challenging times, such as: How will agriculture in the U.S. change during the next 100 years? What role will Extension play?
Whatever the answers, rural development is a top priority of the Agriculture Department, Woteki said. And if the last 100 years are anything to go by, agriculture will rely heavily on improvements in technology.
“Research has a proven track record of success,” she said.
The conference concluded Thursday.