It is safe to say over the last year almost everyone in some fashion has thought about the government, what it should or shouldn’t do, and whether it can do anything well. Lately with the events in Washington and over the last year with events transpiring in Topeka a strong diversity of opinion is evident. Like many discussions regarding government, opposing opinions frame the questions in pretty stark black and white terms. Agriculture is no different in this respect as the industry is constantly aware of and dealing with various aspects of local, state, and federal government bureaucracies. Rather than delve into this arena, let’s instead examine a few of the major events linking the agricultural community with the federal government. This list is by no means complete and the reader can form their own opinion over the value of these events.
• The Land Grant university system. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his advisors decided it was necessary to develop a system where each state contained an institution whose job was to conduct research solving problems regarding agricultural production
• The Cooperative Extension Service (CES). A little over a century ago, Washington established the CES to disseminate information not just to farmers but rural citizens, regarding everything from food production to canning, sewing, and almost every aspect of rural life.
• 4-H. At approximately the same time as the establishment of the CES, 4-H evolved to educate the next generation of farmers and citizens.
• USDA. Again, we have Lincoln to thank for its establishment. Today the USDA has a role in almost every aspect of rural life and indirectly the lives of everyone living in the U.S. Under this umbrella falls everything from the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service to rural housing, food inspection, and crop insurance.
• Soil Conservation. With the impact of the Dust Bowl and the degradation of land resources nationwide, the federal government established the Soil Conservation Service, which has morphed in the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Also developed was a series of research sites along with monies for land grant universities to develop practices and technologies to eliminate soil erosion and improve land resources.
• Trade agreements. From early in the history of the nation, the federal government has taken an active role in promoting the export of agricultural commodities, protecting these commodities through protections such as tariffs, and using the availability of the commodities as a political tool.
• USAID. The U.S. since WWII has taken an active role around the world through this and other agencies in helping developing countries produce more food more efficiently. The boom over the last twenty years in production from South America is partially the result of this aid.