By Laura Skillman and Carol L. Spence
"The nation which tills the soil so as to leave it worse than they found it, is doomed to decay and degradation…. Shall we not have schools to teach men the way to feed, clothe, and enlighten the great brotherhood of man?"
— U.S. Sen. Justin Morrill
The idea started with a Vermont farmer, who went to Congress. U.S. Sen. Justin Morrill believed that universities and colleges had the potential to change lives for the better. Despite the national upheaval of the Civil War—or perhaps because of it, since Southern congressmen opposed to the 1858 version of the legislation were busy elsewhere—Congress passed his Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862.
The legislation allotted to the states profits from the sales of western lands. These profits were to be used to establish higher education programs, particularly in the practical and applied sciences, including agriculture. This first instance of federal funding for higher education would change the country, ultimately opening doors for lower-income students, minorities, and women. Just as important, the knowledge and skills acquired within these new “ivory towers” were to be dispensed throughout the general population. Education, research, and outreach became the hallmark of the land-grant institution.
150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the act into law, the College of Agriculture forges ahead with Morrill’s mission and expands his vision. Perhaps more than any other college in the University, the College of Agriculture has a direct pipeline through its research and extension work to every field, town, and county of Kentucky. Increasingly, that pipeline reaches beyond our borders and around the world to Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.
Throughout the College’s history, researchers and agents have worked hand-in-hand to increase crop yields, improve human and livestock nutrition, better the environment, and help build thriving communities. This timeline is a mere glimpse at the hundreds of accomplishments, inventions, and benefits that have come from the College of Agriculture, the Kentucky Experiment Station, and the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. And it’s only the beginning, as the College prepares for another 150 years of service to the commonwealth and the world.
The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky finds its permanent home in Lexington after Kentucky University Regent John Bryan Bowman purchases Henry Clay‘s Ashland and J.B. Tilford‘s Woodlands estates.
William Ashbrook Kellerman, is hired as the first professor of agriculture after the Kentucky General Assembly authorized a half-cent property tax to support the establishment of an Agricultural Department.
UK President James K. Patterson hires M.A. Scovell as the first director of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. This is two years before Congress’ Hatch Act provides the federal funds for state agricultural experiment stations.
The Experiment Station becomes responsible for analyzing and labeling fertilizers, when the Kentucky General Assembly begins regulating them. By 1918 the station has expanded to regulate seeds, nursery products, livestock feed, food, and drugs.
Domestic Science instruction begins; 40 women take two courses in the basement of the women’s dormitory. Today, the School of Human Environmental Sciences has nationally accredited programs and an enrollment of approximately 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students of both genders.
New hog serum laboratory is completed and immediately goes into production producing a hog cholera vaccine after a serious outbreak in the state. By the end of the year the Experiment Station is able to meet the needs of Kentucky’s hog producers.
College dean Thomas Poe Cooper investigates ways for Extension to work with farm bureaus by sending M.O. Hughes to Ohio and New York. Hughes comes back convinced that Extension must “assist farmers in forming county farm bureaus.” Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation is organized this same year and chartered in 1921.
Cooper establishes the Robinson Substation on nearly 15,000 acres in Breathitt, Perry, and Knott counties that were transferred from the E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund.
Two years later, the West Kentucky Sub-experiment Station is started in Princeton with appropriations from the Kentucky General Assembly. Each experiment station focuses on agricultural situations unique to its part of the state.
Agronomist E.N. Fergus discovers and gathers seed from a stand of tall fescue grass growing on a steep slope on the W. M. Suiter Farm in Menifee County. After extensive field tests, UK releases it as “Kentucky 31” in 1943. It is now used on more than 35 million acres in the Southeast.
The Department of Veterinary Science, internationally known for its distinguished work with Salmonella, is named the National Salmonella Center.
Professor Emery Myers Emmert, the “father of agricultural plastics,” employs polyethylene for the first time as a greenhouse cover in place of more costly glass.
Research at the West Kentucky Sub-experiment Station results in a widely adopted plan to crossbreed dairy cows with a beef bull. The offspring is a substantial, milk-fed, and choice-graded calf for slaughter.
Extension agronomist Shirley Phillips establishes UK as a leader in the no-till movement, after Herndon farmer Harry Young, Jr. plants the first commercial plot of no-till corn. In 1983, researchers push into no-till wheat production, considered a risky venture. Today, approximately 90 million U.S. acres are in no-till production.
Kentucky becomes the first state to send a black delegate to the National 4-H Congress.
The College begins research and education in soybean double-cropping, becoming the technology leader in the Southeast.
The Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center is designated as a World Reference Center for three significant equine viral diseases: equine rhinopneumonitis, equine influenza, and equine viral arteritis.
UK, along with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and USDA Agricultural Research Service, releases the Quicksand variety of bermudagrass, destined to become the predominant bermudagrass grown in the country’s transitional zones. The variety was a result of a collection of surviving plants from Robinson Forest in Breathitt County.
Investigators from several College of Agriculture departments track down the eastern tent caterpillar as the source of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS) that resulted in early fetal losses, late-term abortions, and other problems for the equine industry.
College of Agriculture works collaboratively with the Agricultural Development Board, Governor’s Office of Ag Policy and farm organizations across the state to aid farmers in the transition from a predominantly tobacco-based farm economy to a more diverse one. In 2011, farm cash receipts hit a record high at $4.92 billion. Diversification and new market opportunities are perhaps the biggest and best outcome of the Agricultural Development Fund.
Extension soil scientist Lloyd Murdock discovers wheat blast near Princeton. The first find outside South America, it could have resulted in quarantine and lost exports. Plant pathologist Mark Farman uses DNA-analysis to determine the blast—a relatively harmless form—“jumped” from ryegrass. Their quick work protects a vital part of Kentucky’s economy.