The father of cooperative extension

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Mike Milam Agronomy Specialist

During our Fall Conference of the University of Missouri Extension last week, I had an opportunity to visit with one of my former campus mentors. When I joined extension in August of 1990, our campus leader for soil fertility extension was Dr. Daryl Bucholtz .He was well liked by the entire extension faculty and we were disappointed when he left in 1992 to accept a position with Kansas State University. Since that time, he has advanced to be the Director of Cooperative Extension. He was our keynote speaker for the opening session. His topic was "Extension's Future: Relevant, Reliable, Responsive, and Remarkable. One aspect of his presentation was the history of the Cooperative Extension Service, and the person generally regarding as being the father of the movement. His name is Dr. Seaman Knapp. I was very familiar with his name because of Knapp Hall on the LSU campus. This building houses the leaders of the extension service for the LSU system.

I enjoyed his presentation and had an opportunity to visit with him during the break. We talked about how things have changed over the years and how the principles of extension education have remained consistent over time. The primary change has been the adaptation of technology and the speed that we can get our message out. He also shared with us, some excerpts from a publication called the Extension Worker's Code. This was written as Extension Bulletin No. 33 in February of 1922. This is not to be confused with the Extension Workers Creed.

In this publication is a lot of very useful information, such as serve the people, stick to the truth, don't be afraid to admit that you don't know an answer, having a smile for everyone, and reaching as many as possible. He also addressed topics such as dressing properly for the job, smoking, using failure as a stepping stone; finish what you start, and many other tidbits that are still relevant today.

I especially enjoyed the presentation about Dr. Knapp. I had forgotten about his role in extension education. The Wikipedia page for Seaman Knapp summarizes his career and accomplishments and can be found on-line at.

He was a physician, college instructor, and administrator and later in life turned to farming. He became involved with an organization called "The Teachers of Agriculture." He was so impressed with this teaching method that he drafted a bill for the establishment of experimental research stations, which later was introduced to the 47th Congress, laying the foundation for a nationwide network of agricultural experiment stations. This legislative accomplishment was the Hatch Act of 1887.

Knapp's interest in agricultural demonstration work did not occur until 1886, when he moved to Louisiana and began developing a large tract of agricultural land in the western part of this state. He founded Vinton, Louisiana, naming the town after his hometown Vinton, Iowa.

Since Knapp was from Iowa, he tried to recruit Northern farmers to move to Louisiana to act as catalysts to show the farmers how to use the improved practices. There was resistance at first but he was able to add incentives to coax the farmers to move southward. The technique worked and the Northern farmers were able to demonstrate that the improved practices worked.

In 1902 he was hired by the government to promote the improved techniques to the farmers in the South. His efforts paid off when the boll weevil began its destructive move across the cotton belt.

This led to a farm demonstration at the Walter G Porter Farm near Terrell, Texas. This was one of the first steps that lead to the development of the Cooperative Extension Service. USDA officials were so impressed with the success of this demonstration that they appropriated $250,000 to combat the weevil -- a measure that also involved the hiring of farm demonstration agents. By 1904, some 20 agents were employed in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. The movement also appeared to be spreading to neighboring Mississippi and Alabama. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, a partnership among federal, state and county governments allowing universities to extend their programs to all people and not just students.

Part of his efforts lead to the diversification of crops in many parts of the South. In Enterprise, Alabama farmers began to grow peanuts which became to most profitable crop in the area. The Boll Weevil Monument and tribute was erected by the citizens of Enterprise in 1919 to show their appreciation to an insect, the boll weevil, for its profound influence on the area's agriculture and economy. Hailing the beetle as a "herald of prosperity," it stands as the world's only monument built to honor an agricultural pest.

Originally, the extension service was agricultural related but times have changed to include community development, business development and emergency management and many other services. Extension has an exemplary history and I am proud to be part of it.

. The University of Missouri Extension office is open Monday-Friday located in Kennett, Missouri at 233 North Main Street. Contact 573-888-4722 with questions or comments. MU is an equal opportunity/ADA institution.

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