Throughout the world, a wide range of public, state-run, and private institutions provide agricultural extension services. These services are typically related to three core competencies:
- Technology transfer – helping to disseminate new technologies from research institutions to end-users. For example, helping to expand the use of new, more efficient irrigation systems.
- Advisory services – providing guidance and advice about specific questions, concerns, and opportunities. For example, advising as to how to best convert from conventional production to organic production.
- Facilitation – supporting producers as they develop long-term objectives and plans to fulfill their goals. For example, providing feedback and resources for a plan to scale-up a hobby farm to a farm serving two local schools and a hospital.
The education and training programs support long-term capacity development and contribute to improvements to the health and well-being of food systems and rural communities.
In most places throughout the world, extension services are private. However, in the United States, the services are public as they are linked with the land grant college in each state.
These institutions have been a part of American culture for over 100 years following the passing of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. This Act was passed with the intention of helping to deliver the results of research from the land grant colleges to the general public [specifically farmers].
Funding for agricultural extension is the shared responsibility of states and the federal government. Government appropriations for cooperative extension are distributed to states based on the most recent census results.
The breakdown of the distribution of federal funds is as follows:
- 20% is allocated equally among all states
- 40% is distributed based on the rural population in the state
- 40% is distributed based on the size of the farming population in the state
States must match the funding provided by the federal government. Tribal land grant colleges are a notable exception as they are not required to match the funding they receive.
A major benefit of having a publicly-funded extension service is that research is supposedly not influenced by private interests. However, close relationships between public and private entities due to funding shortages have prompted a closer examination of the ethics of extension in recent decades.
There have been a calls for a revitalization of agricultural extension to meet the changing social, economic, and environmental needs of society. Efforts in this respect include the execution and support of programs that provide, for example, information and training on food safety, gardening, community and rural development, and self-sufficiency. Citizen science projects that encourage a broad spectrum of stakeholders to participate in the research process are another prime example of efforts toward the modernization of extension services.
- O’Donnell, P. (2008): Land Grant Epistemologies: The Humanities and the Production of Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century. In South Atlantic Review 73 (4), pp. 72–85.
- Parr, D. M., Trexler, C. J., Khanna, N. R., & Battisti, B. T. (2007). Designing sustainable agriculture education: Academics’ suggestions for an undergraduate curriculum at a land grant university. Agriculture and Human Values, 24(4), 523–533.