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Second Morrill Act Redux: America's 1890s Land Grant Universities Academic Excellence

Posted by Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Initiatives Food and Nutrition Animals Plants Technology
Jul 15, 2015
1890s 125th logo
USDA joins everyone celebrating 125 years of the Second Morrill Act, which has provided educational opportunities for all.

Booker T. Washington.  George Washington Carver.  Educators par excellence.  Pioneers in food and agricultural scientific research. Dedicated their lives to helping "lift the veil of ignorance" by bringing knowledge to African-Americans and others with limited resources.

For 125 years, since passage of the Second Morrill Act on Aug. 30, 1890, which created a "broader education for the American people in the arts of peace, and especially in agriculture and mechanics arts," the legacy of innovations has been sustained.

The 1890 land-grant universities (LGUs) got off to a challenging start due to socio-economic and political difficulties.  Despite that, these institutions have produced many prominent educators and scientists, innovative food and agricultural research, and a legacy of extension efforts that have benefited millions.

In the 125th year of their founding, the family of 1890 LGUs, which includes 19 institutions in 18 states, continues its legacy of innovations; a few examples of recent innovations are described below.

A food science breakthrough at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) is making peanuts more accessible to the almost 3 million peanut-allergy sufferers in America. In contrast to various other approaches to eliminating peanut allergens, the NC A&T process doesn’t involve chemicals or irradiation, and uses commonly available food-processing equipment. The process treats roasted peanuts, removed from the shell and skin, with food-grade enzymes used in food processing.

Scientists at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore recently investigated the effect of storage temperature on growth and survival of human foodborne pathogenic Vibrio bacteria in oysters. Their findings fill data gaps in international risk assessment for the pathogen in oysters, and will be used by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and organizations in other countries to develop more accurate risk management practices. Moreover, FDA plans to use these findings to design and implement a Vibrio control plan.

Florida A&M University scientists used traditional plant breeding techniques, genomics, proteomics (the study of proteins) and bioinformatics (the application of computer science to biology) to identify genetic markers and developed a new muscadine grape, known as “Majesty,” which comprises a new and distinct cultivar of Vitis rotundifolia Michx.  The researchers are also working to increase antioxidant levels to enhance the utility and economic importance of muscadine grapes in the food and pharmaceutical industry.

Farmers apply phosphorus fertilizer to promote plant growth; however, excess amounts of phosphorus have negative effects, including eutrophication in bodies of water. Tuskegee University scientists patented a broiler chicken litter that is significantly lower in phosphorus content and suitable for augmenting crop soil. Further, the phosphorus can be precipitated and recycled as fertilizer.

Extreme weather events in combination with climate change are likely to be overwhelming to ruminant livestock raised outdoors. In a collaborative project, scientists at Langston University are identifying genes that will improve the resilience of sheep to environmental stressors such as excessive heat, droughts, and limited nutrition.  Their aim is to develop relatively simple and inexpensive genomic methods that will help farmers.

These are just a handful of examples of the numerous impactful innovations being developed at our 1890s LGUs, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture looks forward to enabling more in the future.

Happy 125th birthday, 1890s land-grant universities!

Justin Smith Morrill, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and the other pioneers would be proud.

We wish you continued success in your endeavors of educating young people and helping limited resource farmers and communities in our nation and globally.