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Letter to the Editor: National Ag Day: 100-year partnership between farmers, Extension worth celebrating

National Agriculture Day was this past Tuesday, March 25. The theme of this year’s ag day – “365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed” – carries a significant message.

We all need farmers for our survival. Today, each U.S. farmer feeds 144 people. As our nation’s number one export, agriculture is vitally important in sustaining a healthy economy.

In the agricultural community, we know what lies ahead: by 2050, farmers will be called upon to feed a projected global population of 9.6 billion people. While that is a sobering challenge, I believe the American farmer – including those on Minnesota’s nearly 75,000 farms – is more than up to the task.

Farmers always have been practitioners of science-based methods, early adapters of proven technologies and innovators in land stewardship.

Through delivering research and education, the University of Minnesota Extension helps ensure farmers can fulfill the potential of the land and animals for which they care. 

Precision agriculture, for instance, is a growing area where high-tech systems pinpoint plant nutrient needs so farmers can target rather than broadcast applications. Inside barns, sophisticated computer-driven analyses help inform exact decisions in raising livestock. Yields in crops such as wheat have increased due in part to research and Extension education guidance on varieties, protein content, straw strength and disease management.

These exciting advances rely upon the close partnership between Extension and Minnesota’s diverse agricultural enterprises, one that reflects advances in research and best practices in farming.

In 2014, Extension’s relationship with agriculture marks a special milestone. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the federal Smith-Lever Act, which created the national Cooperative Extension Service and the partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant universities that extend research-based outreach and education.

In Minnesota, we get to claim home state pride: The University of Minnesota was ahead of the curve, creating Extension in 1909, five years before the federal act.

The Smith-Lever Act has stimulated innovative research and vital educational programs for farmers, families and youth through a progressive system for 100 years. It has improved lives through research and education. In fact, Extension has helped shape a nation.

Extension’s second century will witness change every bit as remarkable as that seen in our first 100 years.  I’m glad to know that we’ll be working side-by-side with Minnesota farmers to help meet the challenges that lie ahead and reap the benefits of research-driven agriculture.

Bev Durgan, Dean, University of Minnesota Extension