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Celebrating the Agricultural Impacts of 1890 Land-Grant Universities

Posted by Faith Peppers, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Communications Director in Equity Research and Science
Feb 23, 2021
Portrait of smiling African American student looking at camera sitting in cafe
USDA has a long history of investing in and supporting our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Photo source: Getty Images

USDA has a long history of investing in and supporting our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The 19 HBCUs established under the Second Morrill Act of 1890, along with the two HBCU land-grant universities established in the original 1862 legislation – University of the District of Columbia and University of the Virgin Islands – are a critical link in ensuring public access to agricultural education, research, and outreach programs are equitably distributed to all Americans. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports research at these institutions with both capacity and competitive funding.

HBCUs have netted some major advancements in American agriculture. A few examples are highlighted below.

Arkansas catfish production acreage has declined over the past two decades, but consumer demand increased. University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff scientists examined ways to improve catfish production efficiency on less acreage using split-pond and intensive aeration systems. Concentrating fish in a smaller area helps producers cut costs on feed, disease treatments, aeration and harvesting. The economic impact of these production systems on local economies in the Mississippi Delta could be as high as $36 million.

Growing fruits and vegetables on beds of plastic mulch can double or triple yields for small-scale farmers by controlling weeds, enhancing water efficiency, and extending the growing season. Because the equipment needed to lay the plastic is so expensive it can deter small farmers, North Carolina A&T University created a program that allows farmers to rent plasticulture equipment for $50 per day, with a $25 refund when equipment is returned clean and undamaged. This low-cost rental option expanded use of plasticulture production among North Carolina small farmers and saved renters a total $67,580.

Many lamb and goat producers are new to the industry. Delaware State University provided training and education for farmers who raise nearly 500 sheep and goats. As a result, 71% of these farmers said that they would implement a new practice. Implementing best practices will help producers manage successful, sustainable sheep and goat farms and take advantage of the economic opportunities from increasing demand for lamb and goat meat by ethnic communities and health-conscious consumers.

More than 2 million Texans lost their jobs by spring 2020 due to the pandemic. Through a virtual training program, Prairie View A&M University (PVAM) Extension agents helped 1,500 people learn ways to improve their job search and professional skills. Researchers also identified communities without access to reliable broadband service, pinpointing areas that need different kinds of support. PVAM also launched a loan-packaging program for limited-resource, local business owners and entrepreneurs to help them secure CARES Act COVID-19 relief funds. To date, 92 small business owners have participated in the training series and received more than $500,000 in loans and grants. Participants have applied for another $333,000 in business grants.

To reduce poverty and unemployment, West Virginia State University trained 156 rural small farmers in agricultural production methods, including aquaponics and hydroponics, assessment of local market needs, farm safety planning and post-harvest handling. Scientists also provided technical assistance to help participants succeed in their new agricultural careers. Farmers indicate these programs improved their knowledge, and many are now selling their produce to local markets and restaurants. Equipped with the skills and resources needed to launch and sustain their agricultural careers, new farmers will provide fresh, locally grown produce.

Alabama A&M University found that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations and developed a 4-H program to improve STEM skills among urban youths. Of the youths who participated, 84% demonstrated enhanced critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. Over 1,000 youths expressed interest in STEM careers after participating in the program.

USDA celebrates the achievements and contributions of all the HBCU land-grant colleges and universities. The work they do is pivotal to American agriculture and helps build the next generation of agricultural scientists, agribusiness leaders, and farmers from underserved communities.

Category/Topic: Equity Research and Science