Buena Vista County Extension and Outreach celebrates its 100th year in 2017

BY JOHN D. LAWRENCE

As I was paging through my Extension history book the other day, I found myself reading about ISU Extension and Outreach work during wartime – an appropriate topic for Memorial Day rememberances. R.K. Bliss was Extension director during both World War I and II, leading our organization in all-out efforts to produce and preserve more food. During World War II in particular, Extension professionals engaged Iowans in increasing meat, milk and egg production. Extension pamphlets shared calls for teamwork on the battle field and the home front – from producing and conserving food, to sharing labor, power and machinery. Iowans answered the call, as Bliss noted: “Never before in recorded history had so few people produced so much food.”

One hundred years ago in April 1917 the United States entered World War I and Iowa initiated a War Emergency Food Committee. The committee used the budding county Extension system and county Farm Bureaus (the forerunner of the Iowa Farm Bureau) to deliver the message about increasing food production and reducing waste. There was a particular emphasis on increasing grain and hog production to support the war effort. A slow growing season and early frost in 1917 threatened corn production, because much of the corn froze before it matured and would not germinate when planted in 1918. Extension led a seed corn inventory and testing program to find and evaluate seed for the following year. The U.S. Food Administration declared that “pigs are as essential as shells” in winning the war. Extension helped Iowa farmers answer the call to raise more pigs, and Iowa has been a major pork producer ever since. 

During WWII our organization helped identify and coordinate 28,000 volunteers – 14,000 men and 14,000 women – to provide leadership in the war food production program. That was a man and woman volunteer for each four square miles and 15 or 16 farm families. Think of the task before them. Men and women were leaving their homes and communities to go off to war or to industries supporting the war, and resources were being rationed. Iowans were being asked to increase production of food and reduce waste through education and improved efficiency – our wheelhouse. Compared to the prewar 1938-1940 average, by 1943 Iowa had increased total production of corn 30%, hogs 53%, eggs 51% and soybeans 300%. Farmers even added 45,000 acres of a new crop, hemp, for ropes and fiber. It was estimated that there were 455,000 gardens in 1943 and that rural and urban Iowans canned 150 million quarts of food, dried a half million pounds of food products and stored 5.7 million bushels of fruits and vegetables.

A focus on feeding people always has been part of ISU Extension and Outreach’s history and continues as part of our future. ISU Extension and Outreach is not mobilizing farmers and families during war time, but we still address timely and relevant issues. Did you know?

• More than 1,100 livestock producers, veterinarians and feed distributors in Iowa participated in workshops, webinars or podcasts to increase their knowledge of the new animal antibiotic use regulations, improve their management related to judicious use of antibiotics in animal production, and improve record keeping related to medication use. They manage or impact more than four million animals.

• Over one-half of Iowa farmland is under some form of lease agreement, and farmland leases are an on-going discussion between tenants and landowners. In 2016 some 2,100 participants attended farmland leasing meetings to increase knowledge on leasing arrangements, and 96% indicated they were satisfied the meeting met their expectations. Popular publications on leasing were downloaded more than 415,000 times, and new videos received 3,176 views.

• ISU Extension and Outreach provides Pesticide Safety Education Program training to more than 25,000 certified applicators who each year safely apply pesticides to virtually all of Iowa’s 24 million crop acres, as well as to residential and recreational land.

Even in agriculture and natural resources we focus on the people, rather than things you buy in a bag or spray over the field. We help Iowans build their capacity to better their lives and make sound decisions. Of course, this also applies to our human sciences faculty and staff working with families from cradle to grave, from training child care providers to working with eldercare. It applies to community and economic development – whether that be planning and zoning or new businesses on main street. And it certainly applies to 4-H, as we build capacities and strong individuals through positive youth development and leadership opportunities. Because a strong Iowa requires not only feeding people, but also keeping them healthy, helping their communities prosper and thrive, and turning the world over to the next generation better than we found it.

John Lawrence is the Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach.