from the Dean

Agriculture: Roots
of a Strong Economy

Dr. Nancy Cox

Land-grant university colleges of agriculture have always been about opportunity and economic prosperity. The 1862 Morrill Act, which extended educational opportunities to less privileged students, provided opportunity that laid the foundation for economic development. In early days, this meant teaching “agricultural and mechanical arts,” and today it means teaching about families, consumers, communities, economics, technologies, and sciences. The 1887 Hatch Act establishing a national network of agricultural experiment stations, also enhanced the economy by producing science-based information that led to more profitable farming and family operations. Many studies have shown that the federal Hatch fund investment provides at least a $10 return for every federal dollar. The 1914 Smith-Lever Act created the powerful extension service, whose centennial we are celebrating this year. Today, the land-grant values of education, discovery, and outreach underpin everything we do in the college.

In more modern times, economic development is frequently associated with manufacturing jobs, and the continued role of agriculture and agribusiness has lost some of its luster. However, we are still here, and we have built on our long history of promoting prosperity to create a new suite of CAFE programs around the land-based economic cluster. In Kentucky, more than a quarter million jobs depend on agriculture and forestry lands and include wood finishing, transportation, and food processing, to name a few. The land-based cluster is just that, rooted in the land, and is not as easily recruited out of state as a factory.

We are thinking about land-based clusters in a new way because of a long commitment to community and economic development that is now crystallized in the form of our Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky. But we are doing so much more to expand the economy, through the Kentucky Small Business Development Center and numerous county extension initiatives to create and enhance local businesses. Both CEDIK and Cooperative Extension have prominent roles in Kentucky’s SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) initiative and the federally designated Promise Zone, as well as in programs led by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in Eastern Kentucky. Attendant to these programs are the Managing in Tough Times Initiative to help families make financial decisions, the KyFarmStart programs to educate new farmers, and many more. In many of these programs, we partner with our fellow land-grant program, Kentucky State University. And in 120 counties, the extension offices are focal points for economic development programs, making these efforts real to each community.

The CAFE community strives to create value for Kentucky’s economy using the timeless land-grant philosophy and reinvigorating it every day. We know it has worked when we give our citizens new tools for prosperity and well-being.


Nancy Cox
Dean, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment