Extension's Impact through UNL During the 1930's
Brian Mock, History 250: The Historian Craft, Spring 2022
Nebraska’s deep roots in Farming, Ranching, and Community has made the state a unique place to raise and grow families. Much like the livestock and crops they grow for the rest of the country to consume in various forms. The Extension Program through the University of Nebraska- Lincoln was purposefully created to support these values, traditions, and ideas that the state's residents depend on for livelihoods. Although The Great Depression and both World Wars impacted those livelihoods; the Extension Program was right there and worked endlessly to find ways to cushion the fall for farmers, ranchers, and communities across the state.
Through the self -named Morrill Act created by Justin Morrill of Vermont in 1862, Land Grant Universities such as the University of Nebraska were created in each state with the sole purpose to “ teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts without excluding other scientific or classical studies.” Later in 1887, the Hatch Act developed by Iowa State Professor Seaman Knapp, was utilized to create Agricultural Experimental Stations at Agricultural Colleges within Universities and higher institutions of learning. The University of Nebraska- Lincoln received their Experimental Station in 1899 on East Campus. Knapp had a vision in mind to create Cooperative Farm Demonstrations to
“place a practical object lesson before the farm masses, illustrating the best and most profitable methods of producing the standard farm crops, and to secure such active participation in the demonstrations as to prove that the farmers can make a much larger average annual crop and secure a greater return for their toil.”
Knapp was able to test out the Cooperative Farm Demonstrations with audiences but died before completing anything more with it. In 1914, after his death, Knapp's vision turned into a 3 reality. As part of the Smith-Lever Act, the Extension Program was implemented at Land Grant Universities across the country. The Extension Program aimed to educate farmers, ranchers, and members of communities by researching innovative methods that can be used in their practices and daily lives.
As the Extension Program throughout the US was starting to take shape, conflict had risen across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. World War I (WWI) was the first modern war that used new strategies, technology, and warfare in combat compared to past conflicts. As the US set foot into the war in 1917, much of the country found ways to help support wartime efforts and production. The Extension Program was right there along with the rest of the country offering aid and this was their chance to put their practice into play. In partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US saw large shifts of increasing wheat acreages. In 1913, the annual average of acres for wheat sat at 47 million but then, jumped to 74 million acres by 1917. In this partnership with the USDA, the Extension also pushed for efforts of increased farm production and marketing as well. They also pushed for families to practice conserving food by canning or drying. During WWI, the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association inspired by Great Britain, created and modeled the Women's Land Army of America (WLAA) to lessen the impact of the Agriculture Crisis to come. Over 15,000 Women were a part of this movement by 1918. Seeing how successful it was during WWI, it was implemented again in WWII. Women were a main driving force in the US not only during WWI, but additionally in WWII. The Labor Information Bulletin (LIB), the Extension, and the United States Women’s Bureau (USWB), reported rises and increases of Women in Agricultural Jobs across the board from 1940 to 1945. Although people most associate the Nebraska war effort with The North Platte Canteen, the state in general played a major part in the war efforts by providing agricultural resources in many other forms throughout the war. The US not only benefited from the state’s resources, but also allies during the war. To generate and produce those wartime agricultural resources, farmers were needed to grow and tend to the livestock and crops. With many ranchers and farmers of the state fighting in the war itself, problems arised with who was going to take care of farms and ranches. Spouses and family weren’t able to do it alone. However, the solution was resolved for Nebraska farmers by bringing in groups like WLAA, workers from Mexico as part of the Bracero Program, and also German Prisoners of War.
As the Extension Program grew across the country, it flourished. For Nebraska, it was monumental in bringing the state’s rural areas and agriculture into the future by making it one of top states in the country for agriculture production over the 20th century. With 92% of the state being used for Agriculture and 1 in 4 people in an Agricultural related job, the Extension Program is highly necessary to help farmers and ranchers adapt to the conditions of what they experience. Weather, Natural Disaster Events, Pests, and even War have impacted the state in catastrophic ways. The Extension Program has continuously been on the front lines by helping those impacted navigate through these events. During the 2019 Flooding, UNL and the Extension Program were present providing assistance in the many communities affected. They weren’t just Extension Agents but, as neighbors helping one another removing debris from buildings, evaluating affected homes and businesses, and with disposal of livestock who might have perished. In instances like the 2019 flooding or the Great Depression, Volunteers are necessary to have. With that in mind, a program called VOAD comes in handy. “Extension also participates in Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition of volunteer groups and community organizations created to coordinate disaster response, avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, train volunteers and provide information about services available to disaster survivors.” In events like the 2019 flooding, the Nebraska Extension program has agents across the state ready to help state residents. Extension Agents are strategically placed in every county as resources for communities to seek assistance, advice, and guidance on issues within their area. This practice benefits both parties in many ways. To make this program convenient and effective, An agent is on hand in real time and likely is already residing in these communities and counties. This allows them to have the advantage of being familiar with the area and climate of the counties they may be serving.
While the Foundation of the Extension Program was important, the Extension during the 1930s, is when the state and the rest of the nation put the practices of innovation, education, and research into play with the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Many people across the country suffered during those destructive events of the 1930’s and especially the state of Nebraska. Many did not know how to navigate the 1930’s. Nonetheless, the Extension Program through UNL was present to cushion the fall and help the ranchers, farmers, and residents of the state throughout these hard hitting times. Growing crops and raising livestock in the state of the US then, was not favorable for many. Prices and production were unbearable to compete with. In effect, consumers faced issues. Specifically, shortages of food and other supplies that they depended on. Many had to get creative on how their products were made. The Extension Program in return, provided recipes with substitute ingredients, came up with new ways to cook, store food, sew, and even boost morale through entertainment. UNL and the Extension were already gathering yearly reports of farms and ranches in all counties of the state prior to the Depression. However, they were hard at work using the reports in the 1930’s to gather data to figure out how to give farmers and ranchers the relief they desperately needed. These reports were filled with data and averages of overall prices, costs, incomes, and performance of livestock, crops, and farms for the year.
The Agricultural Adjustment Administration created in 1933 also put forth the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) in the same year as its foundation. The purpose of the AAA, “aimed to bring about, by means of benefit payments to cooperating farmers, a balance between the production and consumption of farm product in order to restore to certain agricultural commodities the purchasing power they had enjoyed in specified base periods, usually 1909-1914.” In order to help alleviate and provide cushion for farmers and ranchers, the AAA was put into place as a part of the New Deal initiative by President Roosevelt. The idea was to lower surpluses while increasing agricultural prices. This was handled by the federal government. Nebraska ranchers and farmers in 1933 however weren’t quite satisfied with the AAA. They sent letters to the Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace looking to amend the Act and make changes. Overall, many farmers across the country weren’t pleased. Secretary Wallace argued, “that the administration must have authority to control acreage planted and, in some cases, amounts marketed. In this manner the farm program would work toward parity prices, the stated objective of the law”  Later the AAA was reconsidered by the Supreme court in 1938 as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decided that the AAA should be reworked for the states in the nation to acquire. Regardless of Knapp’s Vision of Cooperative Farm Demonstrations and University’s Experimental Stations in the late 1800’s, people weren’t buying into the idea yet. Many farmers were not quite ready to adjust to the newly increasing innovation, invention, and developments within Agriculture that many of these Land Grant Universities were advertising. More success, however, was found with the younger generations of youth that were willing to learn, create and try new concepts put before them. A good mixture of these opportunities came within agriculture but there were also more opportunities in other fields like Home Economics. In 1902, a youth program was formed in Clarks County Ohio by A.B. Graham. This was known as the birthplace of the 4-H Program. Others across the country looked at this program in Ohio and formed clubs like this as after school programs. By 1914, 4-H officially was created in part of the Smith and Lever Act and was nationally recognized. However, it was not until 1924 that 4-H as an organization had conferences and camps in all fifty states. The intention was to “help young people and their families gain the skills needed to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy.”  Nebraska’s 4-H program started as an idea with E.C. Bishop, who was a school teacher in Garland, Nebraska. Bishop like many others across the US, wanted to establish boys and girls clubs so youth could have hands- on learning with Agriculture and Home Economic opportunities but primarily Agriculture in the beginning. Bishop set up this program in the state and named it Boys and Girls Club. Bishop in the early 1900’s was looking for a better way to brand his club with an identity. He was able to get that answer in 1907 when a national program was created for clubs across the country similar to what the state was already doing with the Boys and Girls Club. They called the program “4-H”. The name signifies 4 words that start with “H”. Those words being, Heads, Hands, Heart, and Health. By 1914 with the Smith and Lever Act, Cooperative Extensions and the 4-H program were able to work together within the same program. During WWI, 4-H made efforts to help promote new focuses on certain topics besides Agriculture. Through 4-H, canning, conserving, and cooking became an important part of the war effort. In the 1920’s, 4-H was looking to nationally fin an identity for itself and tried to host conferences and promote.
“In the 1930s, the Great Depression again proved the validity of 4-H. Food production and conservation skills learned in 4-H continued to be an asset to youth, their families and communities. When the U.S. became involved in World War II, 4-H youth rose to the cause. They canned, conserved, adopted special recipes and were at the at the forefront of the war movement with patriotic pledges and more.”
The US involvement and dedication within both FFA and 4-H was imperative for the state as both programs found ways to keep youth morale and find ways to keep them occupied. For Nebraska, 4-H and also FFA were vital to get youth interested in the Agriculture fields. The two organizations helped spark interest, innovation, and thought for the youth involved. Nebraska planted the roots of its statehood in 1867 and grew over time, becoming primarily known for its wide variety of agricultural production. Nebraska did not see growth in agricultural production until the Great Depression and the World Wars. Much of what has been gained with the agricultural industry and production in the state today, is due to the jumpstart given during the widespread events during the 1930’s. Those events were some of the hardest hitting years for farmers and ranchers not only in Nebraska, but also the rest of the country. The 9 heavy impacts of the Great Depression and the world wars especially, was a haunting reality for many. However, the Nebraska Extension program, created in 1914, made strides through research to help support the communities and agriculture not only in the state, but also the nation during the hard times of the depression and both World Wars.
- “History of Land Grants and Extension | Nebraska Extension.” n.d. Nebraska Extension. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://extension.unl.edu/history-of-land-grants-and-extension/.
- Knapp, S. n.d. “THE FARMERS’ COOPERATIVE DEMONSTRATION WORK».” United States Department of Agriculture.
- "Cooperative Extension History | National Institute of Food and Agriculture.” n.d. Nifa.usda.gov. Accessed April 14, 2022. https://nifa.usda.gov/about-nifa/how-wework/ extension/cooperative-extension-history.
- “‘To the Rescue of the Crops.’” 2018. National Archives. February 27, 2018. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/winter/landarmy.html.
- “Nebraska Agriculture Fact Card a Cooperative Effort of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and USDA NASS, Nebraska Field Office.” 2020. https://nda.nebraska.gov/facts.pdf. USDA NASS, USDA ERS, USDA FAS, Global Ag Trade System Information gathered by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, 402-471-2341 *2017 Census of Agriculture data will be updated with the release of the 2022 Census of Agriculture Report.
- Reed, Leslie. 2022. “Nebraska U Continues to Assist with 2019 Flooding Recovery.” News.unl.edu. Nebraska Today. March 30, 2022. https://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/today/article/nebraska-u-continues-to-assist-with-2019- flooding-recovery/.
- “Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Adjustment Administration. (1933 - 2/23/1942) Organization Authority Record.” 2019. Archives.gov. Department of Agriculture. Administration of Food Production and Distribution. Agricultural Adjustment Agency. 2019. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10516302.
- Fite, Gilbert C. “Farmer Opinion and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 1933.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48, no. 4 (1962): 656–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/1893147.
- “4-H History.” n.d. 4-H. https://4-h.org/about/history/#.
- “A Brief History of Nebraska 4-H the Beginning…Corn-Growing Clubs and Head, Heart and Hands.” n.d. https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/saunders/A%20Brief%20History%20of%20Nebraska%204.pdf.
- “A Brief History of Nebraska 4-H the Beginning…Corn-Growing Clubs and
Head, Heart and Hands.” n.d.
- “Cooperative Extension History | National Institute of Food and Agriculture.” n.d.
Nifa.usda.gov. Accessed April 14, 2022.
- “Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Adjustment Administration. (1933 -
2/23/1942) Organization Authority Record.” 2019. Archives.gov. Department of
Agriculture. Administration of Food Production and Distribution. Agricultural
Adjustment Agency. 2019. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10516302.
- “History of Land Grants and Extension | Nebraska Extension.” n.d. Nebraska
Extension. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://extension.unl.edu/history-of-landgrants-and-extension/.
- Fite, Gilbert C. “Farmer Opinion and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 1933.” The
Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48, no. 4 (1962): 656–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/1893147.
- Knapp, S. n.d. “THE FARMERS’ COOPERATIVE DEMONSTRATION WORK».”
United States Department of Agriculture.
- “Nebraska Agriculture Fact Card a Cooperative Effort of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and USDA NASS, Nebraska Field Office.” 2020. https://nda.nebraska.gov/facts.pdf.
- “‘To the Rescue of the Crops.’” 2018. National Archives. February 27, 2018.
- “Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Adjustment Administration. (1933 -
2/23/1942) Organization Authority Record.” 2019. Archives.gov. Department of Agriculture.Administration of Food Production and Distribution. Agricultural Adjustment Agency. 2019.https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10516302.