Good Point: by Dr. Desmond Layne, Washington State University

During my 15 years at Clemson University in South Carolina prior to moving to Washington, I would regularly go running for exercise during the lunch hour. Often, I would run along the path through the Woodland Cemetery on campus, where there’s a historical marker for a very important South Carolinian, Asbury Francis Lever.

Lever was both a U.S. congressman and a ­Clemson College life trustee. While in the U.S. Congress from 1901 to 1919, he chaired the House Agriculture Committee and cosponsored the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. On May 8,  we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of this act that established the national Cooperative Extension Service at the state agricultural

Wayne Rasmussen, former U.S. Department of Agriculture historian, in his 1989 book, Taking The University to the People, quoted President Woodrow ­Wilson, who described the act as “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the ­education of adults ever adopted by the government.”

Washington State was ahead of the curve when, a year earlier, the state legislature passed a law creating extension work through the Bureau of Farm ­Development at Washington State ­College.

Much agricultural growth has occurred across the nation during the last century. This has been significantly and positively influenced by agricultural research and extension through the land-grant universities.

In Washington, for example, the State Department of Agriculture reported that the 2012 food and agricultural industry was valued at nearly $50 billion (13 percent of the state’s economy) and employed 160,000 people.

Known internationally as a tree fruit state, Washington is the top U.S. producer of apples, pears, and sweet cherries with a combined total value of production in 2012 of nearly $3 billion. An ­estimated one-third of tree fruit production is exported to other ­countries.

Research commission

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Besides federal and state formula funding to support agricultural research and extension activities, the Washington state legislature passed the Tree Fruit Research Act in 1969 that established the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Grower assessments over the last 45 years have resulted in very significant investments in research and extension.

In 2013, for example, almost $4 million in funding was devoted toward addressing problems facing the tree fruit industry. In 2011 and 2013, tree fruit growers voted to pass two additional special project assessments that over eight years would establish a $32 million tree fruit endowment at Washington State University.

At state land-grant universities across the nation, the partnering of industry with the university is not uncommon.  However, the endowment through the WSU Tree Fruit Campaign is historic in its magnitude and in the fact that the funds are being invested so that a ­perpetual funding resource will exist to support cutting-edge research, information and technology ­transfer, and university tree fruit research farms. This will help to ensure that the industry can remain ­competitive and sustainable over the long term.

Strategic plan

Another critical element to help ensure the success of the Washington grower investment is the creation of an industry Endowment Advisory Committee. This committee, comprising seven industry appointees, is working closely with the Dean of the College of ­Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences to ensure that the ­industry’s investment achieves its maximum potential and is leveraged to secure additional resources. ­

Further, committee members are helping to develop agreements on how funds can be used, will participate in annual program reviews, and will sit on selection committees for potential new hires.

In my new role as the first hired Endowed Chair-Tree Fruit Extension Program Leader, I am working closely with the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences administration, the Endownment Advisory Committee, other industry leaders, and WSU tree fruit research and extension faculty to develop a strategic plan for the extension-related “Information and Technology Transfer” aspect of the endowment.

Our current mission statement is: “To create and sustain a world-class, interdisciplinary outreach program that accelerates and maximizes the beneficial outcomes of scientific research on Washington tree fruit industry productivity, profitability, and sustainability.” Our current vision statement reads: “We will identify and disseminate knowledge that provides solutions for economically relevant industry problems by linking scientists with practitioners, synthesizing and synergizing their knowledge to identify opportunities, and providing targeted resources to overcome technological barriers and address key issues.”

Besides ongoing work on the strategic plan, I am directly involved in several ­initiatives.

First, I am working closely with the CAHNRS communications team and have developed a content team to build a new one-stop-shop tree fruit website. The ultimate goal is to create the world’s best tree fruit site that will be dynamic, searchable, and fully utilize modern technology and social media.

Second, I am working with faculty and industry leaders to help the Pacific Northwest pear industry prioritize future industry-funded research efforts.
Third, we have convened a group of research, extension, and industry ­leaders to develop an educational workshop and subsequent roadmap to inform future research and extension efforts related to soil health and orchard replant ­problems.

Fourth, we are convening a task force regarding the future development of new decision support tools (like those found on Tree Fruit Decision Aid System or the AgWeatherNet), using push technology and creating a common portal where users can go to one place.

I have also been recruiting graduate students and writing competitive grant proposals for applied research projects.
The future is bright for tree fruit outreach and information technology transfer in Washington. With the several excellent faculty already serving and new hires in the future, we will be poised to have perhaps the best university tree fruit team in the world.

I believe that if Frank Lever could be here to have a conversation with us and see both the ongoing impact of his legislation and the partnership with industry, he would be well pleased. •

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Dr. Desmond R. Layne is Endowed Chair, Tree Fruit Extension Program Leader, and professor of pomology at Washington State University, Wenatchee.

What is extension?

All universities engage in research and teaching, but land-grant universities have another mission: extension. It’s so called because they extend their resources to solve public needs through nonformal or noncredit programs.
The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant universities to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions. Extension was formalized in 1914 when the Smith-Lever Act established a partnership between the agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and provided federal funding annually to each state on a population-based formula to supplement state and county funding.
Extension’s main functions were to:
• Develop practical applications of research knowledge
• Give instruction and practical demonstrations of agricultural practices or technologies
When Extension was established, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas and 30 percent of the workforce were engaged in farming. Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living and only 17 percent of the population live in rural areas. Extension increasingly addresses urban and suburban issues, as well as rural issues. It now works in six major areas: 4-H youth development; agriculture; leadership development; natural resources; family and consumer sciences; and community and economic development.
Programs are largely administered through county and regional extension offices. Although the number of local offices has declined over the years, there are still about 2,900 nationwide. —G. Warner

Source: USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture