N.C. State celebrates Morrill Act 150th Anniversary — Dr. Catherine Woteki

N.C. State celebrates Morrill Act 150th Anniversary — Dr. Catherine Woteki


Thank you very much Chancellor. And it is
for me a real delight to be able to be part of your celebration of 125 years, a great
anniversary to mark. And as the Chancellor has just said, the year 1862 was remarkable
for many different reasons, the passage of the Morrill Act, which we’re also going
to be celebrating in this seminar this afternoon. But it was also just a few months before the
Morrill Act was signed into law that another institution was created and that was the Department
of Agriculture. So, while you have been celebrating your 125th anniversary of North Carolina State
University we have been celebrating 150 years of the department and have had the opportunity
this summer to partner with all of the land-grant universities in celebrating 150 years of the
land grant universities. We held with the Smithsonian Institution and
the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities an event on the Mall in July, in which there
were more than 17 universities that accepted the invitation to have a display on the Mall
in our nation’s capital and to demonstrate what’s new at land-grant universities and
what the future is for land-grant universities. And it was an opportunity as well for close
to well I think it was three quarters of a million people to come through and to visit
those exhibits. So, 1862 was definitely a very busy year. And I’m particularly happy
to have the opportunity to celebrate the significance and the success of the Morrill Act with all
of you as part of your celebration of your 125th anniversary. The Morrill Act created
a framework, a framework for partnership between the federal government and the states in support
of higher education. And that partnership has proven to be an incredibly vital asset
to our country, and one that I don’t think is looked at in exactly that way. So, in marking
the anniversary of the Morrill Act, President Obama issued a proclamation in July of this
year and I’d like to quote to you from that. He said “For more than a century land-grant
institutions have helped bring a college education within reach for more Americans and empowered
students with tools that they need to get ahead. They have fueled ground-breaking research
that has moved our country forward and they have partnered with rural communities to develop
robust solutions to the challenges they face. Today, land-grant colleges and universities
continue to advance these critical missions by embracing the commitment to equal opportunity
and enduring innovation that inspired their founding 150 years ago, and I really like
that just to position of the commitment of equal opportunity endearing innovation as
providing some insights into the pathways that we should be thinking about taking forward.”
The Morrill Act provided to each state a grant of land and the proceeds from the sale of
that land were to be matched by the states for the purpose of creating a college in each
state to make a liberal and a practical college education available to everyone. Agriculture
and mechanical arts were to be part of the curriculum, and they were to be half of a
problem-solving orientation in these new colleges. They were also supposed to provide a liberal
education, classical studies, science, as well as military tactics. And twenty-eight
years later in 1890 a second Morrill Act extended these authorities to historically black colleges
and more recently in 1994 to tribal colleges. If you look at our history of growth since
1862 and prosperity in our country, I think they can be traced in no small measure to
the dedication of the land-grant universities to learning, discovery and engagement as implemented
through undergraduate and graduate education, and a real focus on problem-solving research
as well as a dedication to life-long learning through cooperative extension programs. And
if you look at the challenges that are facing our country today, that are facing our world
they’re problems that also take that kind of practical problem-solving approach. They’re
problems that are related to population and the growth in our population. Will we have
enough food? Where are we going to get energy to drive our civilization? And we’re concerned
about the environment and natural resources as well as the health of our populations.
So, these problems, some of them, were common in 1862. Some of them were not viewed as being
that great a challenge. But we have this constellation of challenges. They’re different in scope
but they’re no less daunting than what was facing America in 1862.
Today, we in USDA are really refocusing our whole program activities to address these
grand societal challenges of how do we feed ourselves as well as the growing world population.
How are we going to deal with climate change and the challenges that that is going to bring?
How do we ensure the health of generations to come? And how are we going to build a bio-economy?
We, we have taken these grand challenges, and re-oriented our research programs to focus
on five areas. The first is food security, both domestic and international. And it’s
within the food security priority area that our traditional programs of crop and livestock
production are addressed. But we’re also in that orientation trying to figure out as
well how we can be partnering with scientists in other countries to make sure that the research
that we’re doing addresses not only our issues here, but also those that are facing
them in their countries and also providing for educational opportunities for students
here as well as in those countries to educate a workforce that’s going to be concentrating
on sustainably intensifying agricultural production. Second priority area is food safety, because
it’s not enough just to produce enough food. That food has to be safe in order to have
a healthy population. The third priority is human nutrition with an emphasis on life-long
good health. And again it’s not enough to produce enough food. It’s not enough that
it be safe but it also has to be food in the right proportions that it’s going to promote
life-long health. Our fourth priority area is in the bio-economy.
And we very much see that we have to be looking to the products of agriculture as the source
not only of bio-fuels but also the chemical feedstocks for the production of many other
different kinds of products in addition to bio-fuels. And our work within our research
portfolio is to focus on the development of sustainable systems for those feedstocks.
And in a way that is not going to compete with food production but is going to enable
us to meet both of those demands on our food system.
The final priority is climate change, and it is going to be a challenge to meet for
all of the other priority areas. But we’re focusing our efforts on first of all understanding
what the dimensions of climate change are and how they will be affecting agricultural
systems. Secondly to develop resilience within our cropping and animal systems of agriculture
and adaptation to climate change. And then thirdly looking at how agricultural systems
can function to help to mitigate aspects of climate change.
So, these priorities are guiding research that we are doing in our intramural labs and
that we are supporting through our extramural programs. And each one of these priorities
is a complex challenge in and of itself. And it also will require multi-faceted approaches.
And in my role as chief scientist and undersecretary my principal responsibilities are to provide
overall direction and coordination for these various programs in science and in our education
portfolio, which includes the four agencies that Chancellor Woodson mentioned in the introduction.
The one that’s of greatest interest to this audience is probably the National Institute
of Food and Agriculture that provides funding through capacity funds to the experiment station
and to the extension programs here and at the land-grant universities across country,
and also provides competitive grant funding oriented towards these priority areas as well
as to foundational science in agriculture. The other three agencies are the intramural
agency, the Agricultural Research Service that we are looking increasingly to, to provide
infrastructure support and to partner with faculty in university settings.
The Economic Research Service as its name implies does economic research, a lot of that
going to inform program and policy decisions of the department. It’s been interesting
this being a Farm Bill year that virtually every single analysis that has been done and
provided to the Congress for the Farm Bill has quoted ERS research and referenced it,
cited it and maybe agreed or maybe disagreed, but they do play an important role in that
type of economic research and analysis. And the final of the four agencies is the
National Agricultural Statistic Service that provides the Census of Agriculture that’s
conducted every five years as well as literally hundreds of surveys that are conducted at
the state and the national level that provide important information on agricultural production
that drive many market decisions but that also play a very important role in providing
data that it also inform program and policy decisions.
But I’m not here to talk about USDA. I really am here today to talk about the Morrill Act
and also the way forward we see. So, 150 years ago this historic partnership between the
Department of Agriculture and the states, and the land-grant universities, began supporting
American higher education. That legislation created an agreement between the federal government
and the states. It opened the doors of higher education to literally millions of students
over the generations here in the United States. And the land-grant university system was really
built on this unprecedented partnership between the federal government and the states that
has paid some huge dividends to American agriculture in particular, but the American economy overall
and the American people. Since the formation of the land-grant university system, our schools
have graduated more than twenty million students, produced countless scientific breakthroughs,
and provided leaders to communities. The remarkable discoveries and innovations
that began in these public universities have been shared with American farmers, and ranchers,
and the public at large through cooperative extension, but provides practical solutions
to real-life problems, best practices and techniques to farmers and ranchers, improve
community and family life and human health and food safety. And those practices and techniques
have made American agriculture and our food system among the most productive in the world.
Not only do we not worry about shortages of food here in the United States, American families
pay a far smaller proportion of their income for food than any other nation in the world.
And the world has really looked to the United States as being the source of new innovations
in agriculture and food processing that they have adopted. So, that’s a really remarkable
contribution that land-grant universities have made to the lives of people not only
here in the United States, but around the globe.
But we have some looming challenges and they’re on the horizon. The one that I’m sure this
audience is familiar with and I’ve heard before is the expected population growth by
mid-century to over nine billion people. The fact that the land that we have available
for agriculture is finite and from a recent FAO estimate a quarter of agricultural lands
are severely degraded. We also have limited water available and agriculture is the biggest
user of water. All of this has led many in the agricultural
sciences to the conclusion that what we need to be concentrating our efforts on is the
sustainable intensification of agricultural production. Food and Agriculture Organization
estimates that in order to meet those food demands by mid-century, we’re going to have
to increase agricultural production by seventy percent on essentially no more land than is
currently available. Another way of thinking about this challenge is that between now and
mid-century we’re going to have to raise as much food in that thirty-five to forty
year period of time as humanity has produced in all of recorded history. And we’re going
to have to continue to do that for every year beyond. So, it’s a huge, huge challenge.
Now part of it can be met, by making sure that we don’t lose and waste food. There’s
also estimates that around the world somewhere between thirty to forty percent of food that’s
produced is lost or wasted. And if we could work on that side of the equation as well
that amount of additional food that needs to be produced could be lessened substantially.
But it’s also, being at a university, worthwhile considering that it’s the students that
are here today who are the ones who are going to have to be working on this project for
all of their careers. That this is going to be a huge, huge mission for the students here
at NC State and at every other university with agricultural programs. So, it’s crucial
that we keep the educational pipeline filled with students getting the education needed
to be that scientific [unintelligible] whereas the researchers, the agricultural professionals,
the skilled farmers, as well as the ones who are going to be making the policy decisions
to make sure that we’re going to be able to keep moving in the right direction.
We at USDA can provide some help through the partnership that we have. We do provide for
undergraduate and graduate scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships. We provide grants
for curriculum development to help you faculty develop new approaches towards higher education.
But we also need to recognize that the United States is already falling behind in the number
of students graduating with degrees in the agricultural sciences. The statistics reveal
there’s been no real growth in graduate enrollment or degrees awarded in the agricultural
disciplines for the last few decades and only limited growth in some of the allied professions
such as family and consumer sciences, human sciences, forestry, and natural resources.
We at the department are committed to developing the sharpest minds to strengthen our agricultural
science community, but we can’t blur Justin Morrill’s vision preventing the production
of an educated population that is not only useful here in North Carolina, but around
the world. USDA will continue to be your partner to fund land-grant universities like yours
to support agricultural experiment stations in cooperative extension as well as partnering
in the undergraduate pipeline. We have every reason to embrace, to engage,
and to celebrate the partnership that’s made modern agriculture productive and profitable.
But as we celebrate 150 years of the land-grant university system we need to do more than
reflect on how well this partnership has served us. We need to renew. We need to reinforce
and to reinvigorate the partnership and then some. We need to reinvent and reimagine what
a research and development partnership between the states and the federal government that
was established in the 19th century would look like if we were to create it today. I
think it would look different, would have some of the same elements, but it would look
different. And I think this is going to be an important dialog for the land-grant universities
and the states and the federal government to have as we face into what are some very
significant budget challenges for the United States.
President Obama has asked us to out-educate the world, emphasizing the importance of increasing
attention and participation in the STEM disciplines, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The foundation needed to go forward into science related careers. And just this past July the
President issued a plan to create a national science, math, technology, and engineering
master/teacher core. The STEM master/teacher core is going to begin in fifty locations
across country with fifty exceptional STEM educators. And over the next four years the
core will expand to include ten thousand of the best STEM teachers in the nation.
The President said that if America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of
tomorrow we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible. And
teachers matter and great teachers deserve our support.
We at USDA are doing our part to reach this goal. We recently completed an analysis of
our own educational portfolio across the entire department and identified that we are investing
more than 90 million dollars a year toward STEM education. But support to educate this
next generation is just the beginning of our hopes for the future.
Today the food and agriculture economy is a huge engine for our country’s economy,
helping to support one in twelve jobs in the country. And while many sectors of our economy
are running trade deficits, American agriculture has enjoyed a trade surplus for nearly fifty
years. We often hear from the private sector that they don’t have the workforce needed
in the food and agricultural companies, meaning that there are jobs that are going unfilled
in some of these critical companies for the growth of our economy. And they are growing
fields with good paying jobs that more and more require strong backgrounds and stem education.
Local businesses also tell me that they’re struggling to find labor that’s properly
trained for the high-tech environment, and we need to continue training the best and
brightest from across the country to be food and ag science innovators of the future just
as you are doing here at NC State. So, at every turn and every partnership our
science agencies within the department are I believe delivering on our mission to help
ensure a healthy productive safe and sustainable food and agricultural system while protecting
our precious, natural, and human resources. The research that we do in conjunction with
university based faculty and students has a proven record of success. And now more than
ever I think our policies need to be as well informed by science and be evidence based
and performance based. A robust public food and agriculture research system is our best
resource for ensuring that our food system delivers the healthy diet that we want and
we expect. So, last month I had the opportunity to travel
to a meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico with the chief scientist for agriculture of the G-20
countries. It was the first time ever that such a meeting of agricultural chief scientists
had been held. And we had a wide ranging set of discussions. Through that I got to see
first- hand that collaboration and cooperation are ultimately going to help decision makers
in government, in companies and more importantly in the heartland of our farmer’s access
and effectively use new forms of critical agricultural knowledge information and technology.
And we agreed in this meeting that we needed to focus our efforts on five global research
collaboration platforms that would provide open access to scholarly publications that
are the result of government investments in research, open access to germ plasma collections
that are so important for plant breeders as well as for genetics and genomics research.
Open access to genetics and genomics data as well as other data sets that are critically
important for scientists whether it’s soils or land-use or weather data.
We also as a fourth platform recognize that we have to put more emphasis on technology
transfer that includes extension approaches but modernized and adapted to the conditions
in different countries as well as helping other countries to build the private sector
that will be producing for those countries the new seed and the other agricultural services
that are important for the countries. And finally we recognize that we also need
much greater improvements in agricultural statistics that are produced by the countries
who are participating in this meeting that included the developing world as well as the
G-8 countries. We’re not going to be able to measure our
progress in sustainably intensifying agricultural production unless we’ve got some reasonably
good data on what’s being produced. So, we really need to an improvement in countries
capacities to generate agricultural statistics. And we also agreed that as chief scientists
we needed a venue where we could meet and where we could evaluate the various research
projects that we have entered into in global collaborations and the work that we’re supporting
as well through the CG system. So, there are a lot of multi-lateral as well
as bi-lateral scientific projects that are ongoing and certainly the very important work
that the CG Center that would help us decide where to be putting our research investments
for the future as well as what the priorities should be.
I’m telling you about this recent meeting because I think it reflects the new ways that
agricultural science is being done, the recognition that we’re in the age of big data as well
as big projects in the agricultural domain. And it also recognizes that the importance
now that ag science has on the international agenda that there is the commitment on the
part of the G-8 ag ministers and G-20 ag ministers as well as the President’s to these very
important questions of how are we going to be able to sustainably intensify agricultural
production and the role that science has got to play.
So, yes the challenges that we’re facing are different from the one in 1862. They’re
very daunting, but we have new tools and the recognition of the importance of agricultural
science at the highest levels of government. The President also said in that proclamation
that he signed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the land-grant universities that generations
of Americans have led richer more productive lives as beneficiaries of the land-grant university
system. As we commemorate this historic anniversary,
let us reaffirm our support for these institutions of higher learning that help America fulfill
its great promise as a nation. We’ve accomplished a lot in 150 years, but there’s a whole
lot more work to be done. And as we reflect on the successes that the Morrill Act has
had in our communities in our country and in the world, I think we need to collectively
remain focused on the pathway ahead. Thank you very much for inviting me to be
part of your celebration. Thank you all for your leadership in the food and agricultural
sciences, and I wish you a brilliant next 125 years. Thank you.

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