On Our Plate: Filling the Ag Extension Gap

Posted by on June 12th, 2017 | 0 Comments »

Agricultural extension systems provide the link between public research and farmers, enabling them to understand and adopt innovations that can benefit their business operations and the natural resources they manage.

The U.S. cooperative extension program was established by the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and has become a model for many other countries.

Working cooperatively, the federal government agencies involved in agricultural research, along with land-grant universities and local governments, built a solid structure for sharing innovations and new practices with farmers.

These extension systems serve to keep farmers successfully involved in agriculture, providing advice, training, and support for rural entrepreneurship. A recent study demonstrated that since 1985, some 137,000 U.S. farmers would have left farming without the specific services of cooperative extension.

Purdue University’s Useful to Usable initiative, offers a suite of online tools to help farmers and agricultural advisors manage the increasingly variable weather and climate conditions across much of the Midwest Corn Belt.

Initially, extension systems were established in the U.S. as a top-down model in which new information, practices and technologies flowed from experts to farmers. With a decline in the matching state-level investments for extension after 2007 due to the recession, extension services are increasingly web-based, enabling farmers to access timely information at lower costs.

Internationally, agricultural R&D and extension systems in many lower-income countries are significantly underfunded due to budget constraints and the lack of prioritization. But new approaches and models to extension are emerging and as countries build out their research and extension systems, greater participatory models are evolving to fill the extension gap.

Farmers’ social networks — trusted people in their home, community and business circles — play key roles in helping farmers adopt new information, practices and technologies. By tapping into local trusted sources of information, extension agents can provide whole communities with practical tools and knowledge to improve their soil health, reduce post-harvest loss, market their crops and adapt to climate change.

The 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® highlights examples of public and private extension programs that are helping farmers improve their productivity, sustainability and resilience.

Below is a selection of recent articles highlighting the importance of extension services around the world.

USDA Awards $4.8 Million to Support Critical Ag Research and Extension Projects
USDA.gov, June 7, 2017

Portage-area agriculture experts to travel to Tanzania
Portage Daily Register (Wisconsin), June 7, 2017

Kenya: Hopefully, the Recent Drought Taught Us Something
AllAfrica.com, May 15, 2017

Three crucial stumbling blocks in farming
The Hindu, June 9, 2017

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