Did You Celebrate March 2? (3/4/2022)

Last week was National FFA week and many chapters across the nation had a variety of celebratory activities. However, I doubt if anybody celebrated March 2 of this week. What is so special about March 2?

March 2 is a momentous day in the history of agriculture but it has largely gone unnoticed. On March 2, 1887, the Hatch Act was signed into law by U. S. President Grover Cleveland. What is so special about the Hatch Act? It created a nationwide system of agricultural research stations at land-grant colleges. The research conducted at these research stations during the past 135 years has contributed greatly to the productivity of American agriculture. But it did more than that. It was responsible for starting the teaching of agriculture in the public schools.

Many people erroneously believe agricultural education was “started” with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. The fact is agriculture was being taught in high schools long before this. The United States Commissioner of Education reported in 1915, two years before the Smith-Hughes Act, that Agriculture was being taught in 4,390 secondary schools to 85,573 students. How did this happen? It was primarily because of the Hatch Act.

The Hatch Act called for two things – scientific investigations in agriculture at land grant colleges AND the dissemination of “useful and practical information on subjects connected with agriculture” to the people of the United States. This second goal allowed the government officials associated with the Hatch Act to promote the teaching of agriculture in public schools. But that is not what this Footnote is about. The impact of the Hatch Act on agricultural education has been thoroughly discussed in the Friday Footnote of August 30, 2019.

Since we have just finished a series of Footnotes about African American farmers in celebration of Black History Month this Footnote will wrap up that series with an examination of the impact of the Hatch Act on agricultural research conducted at the historically Black 1890 land grant colleges.

Dr. Jim Connors at the University of Idaho and I teamed up to write this Footnote.

Agricultural Research at Historically Black Land Grant Colleges

Are you ready for a shock? The Congressional Research Service published a 22-page report in 2019 titled “The U.S. Land-Grant University System: An Overview.” On page 7 of this report we learn “The 1890 Institutions are not eligible for Hatch Act appropriations.” What gives?

Why are 1890 land grant institutions not eligible for Hatch Act appropriations? It goes back to the wording found in the Hatch Act of 1887. The Hatch Act provided for the establishment of “a department to be known as an ‘agricultural experiment station’…under the direction of each land-grant institution established under the first Morrill Act…“ So, there you have it.

The Hatch Act was passed three years prior to the 2nd Morrill Act. So, why is there a reference to the first Morrill Act? It should be noted that Senator Morrill had attempted to pass a 2nd Morrill Act in 1872 and in 1873 and in the following six years. He saw the need for additional funding for the original land grant colleges. In discussing his 1887 bill he stated the need for Black land grant colleges. Perhaps some shrewd senators with racial prejudice foresaw the eventual passing of the 2nd Morrill Act and realized that Black land grant colleges would be established and would then be eligible for funding from the Hatch Act. While this is conjecture, the word first might have been inserted in the Hatch Act to prevent this from happening. In view of the information about Black farmers contained in the previous four Friday Footnotes, this is plausible.

But alas, all is not lost. Some states did the right thing.

Booker T. Washington was interested in creating an agricultural experiment station at Tuskegee. In 1897, the Alabama Legislature and Governor approved an act establishing a “Branch Agricultural Experiment Station and Agricultural School for the colored race” at Tuskegee Institute. The legislature appropriated $1,500 per year to support the experiment station. The goals of the station were to provide “the colored race…an opportunity to acquire intelligent practical knowledge of agriculture in all of its branches.” George Washington Carver was named as the first director of the experiment station.  The official name of the institution was the Tuskegee Agricultural Experiment Station and Agricultural School.

Figure 1. George Washington Carver

New agricultural knowledge developed through research was disseminated to African American farmers in several ways. Part of the work of Tuskegee included offering “Negro Farmers Conferences” which began in 1892. These conferences were held to educate African American farmers in the newly developed agricultural methods. Based on the success of these conferences, Tuskegee received funding for Jesup Agricultural Wagons to take agricultural information directly to farmers in rural areas of Alabama.

Tuskegee also conducted Farmers Institutes for southern farmers. Mayberry (1989, p. 53) reported that,

                The idea of Farmers Institutes gained strength in the South after 1900, and spread to other Negro agricultural colleges in Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana. Professor Carver and other agriculturalists from Tuskegee frequently received invitations to deliver speeches or conduct demonstrations at these institutes.

While agricultural research was being conducted at Tuskegee and a few other 1890 land-grant institutions, it was not widely recognized by the entire agricultural research profession. Ironically, agricultural research at 1890 institutions is given little attention in the history book Legacy: A Century History of the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (Kerr, 1987, p. 139-140). Now we know why.

Tuskegee Institute is only mentioned briefly including the following reference:

                With more limited operating expenses and facilities, however, the 1890 colleges and Tuskegee Institute had to be more selective in their activities, often finding opportunities in less traditional areas than the problems of major farm commodities producers.

In 1991 Robert Jenkins wrote an article in Agricultural History titled “The Black Land-Grant Colleges in their Formative Years, 1890-1920.” While Jenkins does a good job of describing the academic programs and challenges facing the Black Land-Grant colleges, the total absence of the word “Research” in the article is telling.

The Wrong is Righted 90 Years Later – Sort of

Have you ever heard of the Evans-Allen Act? It was passed in 1977 as part of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977. This Act (some folks call it an amendment) authorized annual appropriations for agricultural research at 1890 institutions in a manner similar to the Hatch Act.

According to the APLU (2013) the purpose of the Act was to promote agricultural research in the efficient production, marketing, distribution, and utilization of products of the farm as essential to the health and welfare of people and to promote a sound prosperous agriculture and rural life.

The Evans-Allen Act calls for the funding amount to be at least 15% of the Hatch Act appropriations. Thompson writes (1990, p. 4), “Unfortunately, this percentage has been operationalized as a ceiling rather than as a floor.  Evans-Allen funds currently constitute the major source of funding for the research programs at the 1890 institutions.”

The Act requires a one-to-one match from non-federal resources. In practice this means the state has to match the federal funds. Waivers may be granted by the USDA (up to 50% of the match) if non-federal resources are not available. The Hatch Act did not have a waiver clause.

Many states have requested waivers as this table from the APLU 2013 Policy Brief “Land-Grant But Unequal” shows. Because of state budget allocations numerous 1890 institutions have had to request waivers for the one-to-one match. Between 2010-2012 the 1890 land grant universities did not receive $24,798,282 in research funding because states were not meeting the one-to-one matching requirement. However, the states did match dollar for dollar the Hatch funding required at the 1862 land grant institutions.

Figure 2. Research Waivers for Evans-Allen Act

Funding for agricultural research at 1890 institutions did receive a little boost in 1984. President Reagan signed into law a $50 million appropriation to provide and improve basic research facilities at the 17 1890 land grant institutions.

Concluding Remarks

It is unfortunate that agricultural research in 1890 land-grant institutions was not treated or funded on an equal basis as those same activities at 1862 institutions. Separate but equal was a fallacy in agricultural research as it was in public education.


Kerr, N. A. (1987). The Legacy: A centennial history of the state agricultural experiment stations 1887-1987. Columbia: MO: Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Missouri-Columbia.

Lee, John M. (2013). Land-Grant But Unequal. Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. The Office for Access and Success Policy Brief.

Mayberry, B. D. (1991). A century of agriculture in the 1890 land-grant institutions and Tuskegee University 1890-1990. New York: Vantage Press.

Jenkins, Robert L. (1991, Spring). The Black Land-Grant Colleges in Their Formative Years, 1890-1920. Agricultural History. Volume 65. No. 2.

Thompson, Alton. 1990. “Obstacles and Opportunities: Funding Research at the 1890 Land  Grant Institutions.” Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 07(1): Article 3. Available At:  https://egrove.olemiss.edu/ jrss/vol07/iss1/3