March 15 is National Agriculture Day, an important day for land-grant institutions such as Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College and Southern University.
Most people do not know that a land-grant college has an agreement with the federal government to conduct agricultural research and share that newfound knowledge with the state’s citizens. It represents a unique communication and engagement loop between a university and the citizens of its state — a relationship other universities do not have.
This compact goes back to 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, transferring federal lands to the states in exchange for expanding access to higher education, and was meant to provide sustainable funding to colleges supporting agricultural, engineering, and military leadership.
As a land grant university, we have three tools to affect every citizen of the state: research, public outreach and education. And it’s easy to see how the drive to fulfill these missions permeates everything LSU does.
Agriculture is a competitive $13 billion industry in Louisiana, and our farmers and operators are consistently looking for larger outputs with smaller production costs. LSU AgCenter research stations located around the state investigate better ways to grow crops, raise livestock, re-use agricultural byproducts, reduce environmental effects, increase productivity across the state, and deploy new technologies to improve industry success.
For example, our rice research is so advanced that the return on LSU AgCenter’s licensed rice varieties is larger than all other universities’ patent and commercialization efforts combined. And AgCenter extension offices, which are located in every parish in the state, bring this type of new information directly to those who feed the people of our state — and our nation. Extension services also maintain popular community and youth programs, including 4-H, and offer nutrition and healthy living courses to battle Louisiana’s adult and childhood obesity epidemics. But recent budget cuts threaten the extension program’s parish-based mission and hamper our efforts to reduce obesity and address other health- and agriculture-related challenges that hinder our state’s progress and dominate Louisiana’s economic challenges.
Agriculture is more than just crops and cows. It is a serious scientific endeavor requiring highly qualified expertise in genetics, chemistry, environmental science and many other fields.
The LSU College of Agriculture and the LSU School of Veterinary Science are the state’s primary educators of the next generation of agricultural leaders, with more than 2,000 students currently enrolled in the two areas. Agricultural-related concentrations also can be found in other fields of study throughout the university that affect the health and well-being of citizens across Louisiana and the nation, illustrating the true integration of agriculture into all that we do. And our next agricultural leaders will graduate from LSU with little to no debt, ready to earn competitive, higher-than-average starting salaries, and they will take their degrees back home and contribute to the Louisiana economy.
And when they do, they’ll carry the spirit of the land-grant along with them — the drive to share, to better everything they touch, and to be a part of a community of thinkers and doers.
So as we reflect upon our agricultural heritage, don’t forget the role higher education — and LSU — played in our state’s past, and what both still have to offer to build our future and to feed the growing populations of the world.
F. King Alexander is president of LSU.