Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Nat. Sci. Educ. 44:26–33 (2015) doi:10.4195/nse2014.10.0022.


Copyright © 2015 by the American Society of Agronomy. Used by permission.


This review addresses key changes in U.S. agricultural extension and future opportunities. Agricultural extension has been a part of the land-grant university (LGU) system for more than 100 years. The Morrill Act of 1862 established the LGU system by authorizing states access to federally controlled land and funding for public institutions offering educational opportunities focusing on agriculture and mechanical arts for farmers and the working class. Current surveys in Iowa reveal changing trends in extension: more than 90% of farmers identified private-sector crop advisers as their primary source for recommendations, whereas more than 80% of those advisors identified Iowa State University (ISU) extension as their primary source. These results highlight the shift in extension’s client base from end users—farmers and agronomists—to their advisers and consultants. This change reflects, in part, a conscious effort by extension to target agricultural advisers—in addition to farmers— and represents a changing trend in extension’s role. Extension has contributed to U.S. farmers’ potential for profit and export of goods to international markets. Today, due to continuous reductions in state and federal support, extension faces unprecedented challenges to continue its non-formal educational role. These challenges present opportunities for extension to evaluate programs and serve the common good by charting new directions.