But while our nationís land-grant institutions have helped address many historical and modern agricultural and scientific challenges, the land-grant system itself faces enormous challenges.
Federal funding, which is essential to keeping agricultural research programs on the cutting edge, has been flat for many years and in this difficult economy is constantly under threat of drastic cutbacks. Meanwhile, hard-pressed state governments are cutting education funding, leading some state universities to close or sharply reduce their agriculture schools or departments.
In some cases the private sector has stepped in to fill the funding gap; while these investments can stimulate valuable activities, they cannot be relied on to help the land-grant institutions continue their legacy of basic scientific research.
Such cutbacks in capability could not come at a worse time. Amid intensifying global economic competition, environmental challenges and concerns about the food supply, the scientific research and other activities of the land-grant colleges and universities are needed now more than ever.
The investments our country has made in land-grant institutions over the past 150 years have paid huge dividends many times over. They have kept our nation at the forefront of scientific discovery, laid the foundation for our industrial might, assured safe and plentiful food for generations of Americans and helped propel the global fight against hunger.
With a track record like this, and so many critical challenges before us, now is the time to reinvigorate our support for Americaís land-grant colleges and universities. They have served the country and the world well for the past 150 years. Letís give them the capacity to lead for the next 150.
Former Kansas Gov. John Carlin is a visiting professor and executive-in-residence at Kansas State University. Mark E. Keenum is president of Mississippi State University. He formerly served as undersecretary of Agriculture and as a senior aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Carlin and Keenum are members of the advisory group for the Chicago Council on Global Affairsí Global Agricultural Development Initiative.