NDSU continues to reinvent its land-grant mission to help citizens meet challenges of the times
Published June 11, 2012
Mark Jennings is a fourth-generation farmer.
He grows spring and winter wheat, corn, barley, sunflowers, field peas, flax, canola and occasionally safflower on some of the land his great-grandfather homesteaded near Washburn.
But farming methods have changed drastically since then. Many new crop varieties are available. Producers have ways to combat insects and diseases that were unheard of in the 1800s. That’s why Jennings relies on North Dakota State University’s agricultural research and Extension activities to provide producers with the knowledge gained from that research.
“NDSU gives you information and resources you can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “You get an independent, third-party analysis. I think it definitely has helped North Dakota agriculture immensely.”
NDSU and the other institutions that provide unbiased, research-based information exist because of the foresight of leaders such as U.S. Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont. In the mid-1850s, he championed a bill that would grant each state 30,000 acres of federal land for every senator and representative. Each state was to sell the land and use the proceeds to establish a college to provide people with an education in agriculture and mechanical arts as well as liberal arts and sciences.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation, known as the Morrill Act, into law in July 1862. NDSU, established in 1890, and the other universities throughout the U.S. that resulted from this legislation are called land-grant institutions. They are celebrating the 150th anniversary of that act this year.
Two other early pieces of legislation also have had a huge impact on NDSU. The Hatch Act of 1887 created agricultural experiment stations, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension System.
North Dakota’s Agricultural Experiment Station has its main station in Fargo, an agronomy seed farm near Casselton and seven Research Extension Centers strategically located throughout the state. Its mission is to develop information, technology and products to allow North Dakotans to solve problems and be successful in the production and use of food, feed, fiber and fuel from crop and livestock enterprises. It also addresses emerging issues such as agro-tourism, food safety and biosecurity.
The NDSU Extension Service is the link between North Dakota’s citizens and the knowledge and resources available at NDSU and other universities across the country and around the world. Extension provides educational programs in farm, family and community economics; human and 4-H youth development; nutrition, food safety and health; crop and animal production; and urban and natural resources. Its agents serve all of North Dakota’s 53 counties and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
Being able to visit with an Extension agent who understands local issues is very helpful, Jennings says.
Effective leadership is an essential element for a healthy community, and NDSU is a leader in researching new economic opportunities and providing programs to help citizens take advantage of them. Rural Leadership North Dakota, an 18-month leadership development course for those who want to improve their organization, business, farm or ranch operation, or community, is one of those programs.
“Rural Leadership has helped me to understand the importance of working as a community to become a better community, empowering me to feel I can share my thoughts and concerns to leaders and other community members to help our community excel,” says 2009-11 RLND class member Suzi Sobolik of Dickinson.
NDSU also has a strong history of positive youth development. Every county, through its county Extension office and with the support of volunteer leaders, provides opportunities for local youth to belong to a 4-H club and participate in numerous 4-H activities and events offered every year.
Mike Ostlie, who recently became a research agronomist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center, says 4-H played a substantial role in his career choice.
While growing up on a farm, his involvement in 4-H included showing livestock, competing in crop judging events and working on projects. In high school, he attended a National 4-H Technology Conference in Maryland.
“This is where I met peers in 4-H who were doing fun and great things locally and in the state,” he recalls. “This got me interested in what else might be out there.”
Soon, he joined the county Youth Leadership Team, which was involved in a weeklong student exchange with 4-Hers from other states. He also participated in the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, a Citizenship Washington Focus trip to Washington, D.C., the annual Extension Youth Conference on the NDSU campus, and was selected to join the North Dakota 4-H Ambassadors team.
“Together, all these experiences helped to guide me through life via the new friends and connections to the leadership and practical skills I gained,” he says.
As North Dakota’s original land-grant institution, NDSU will continue to serve as a major source of innovation, new technology, knowledge and support to help citizens meet the challenges of a fast-paced, globalized, high-tech environment.