There's a curious statue at the top of the long climb up Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. It's Abe Lincoln. Yes, the great man himself is honored in statuary at the top of the big hill overlooking the city of Madison, but why. It's not like the good folks of Wisconsin seek ways to honor anyone from Illinois. In fact, it goes back to a little law passed in 1862. Read on...
Today, Feb. 12, 2009, is a big day in agricultural history, and one not all of us think of. Sure we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday today, and ag should be happy the tall man came to Washington. You see, Lincoln also played an important role in making the U.S a world agricultural powerhouse.
Lincoln signed the Morrill Act of 1862 - which is often better known as the Land Grant College Act. And for those of us who graduated from our state's land grant colleges (Iowa State University for me), that was an important year. When the law was signed every state got 30,000 acres of land for each senator and representative they had in Washington. The state could then sell the land to become an endowment fund to provide support for colleges in that state.
Today the network of Land Grant Universities remains a potent resource for agricultural research. It's there that the latest ideas in biotech, crop protection, livestock research and other sciences in the world of food-creation have come to fruition. In the past few years, the U.S. government, as well as state lawmakers, has forgotten the importance of advancing food technology. And they've abdicated that role to private companies as they've sliced Extension budgets right and left.
Perhaps they should remember not only Honest Abe, but Vermont Congressman Justin Smith Morrill - the creator of the "Land Grant College Act." And see the vision they saw for a network of research institutions that could not be easily recreated from scratch today. For every one of us that's a Land Grant alum, this is a big day. For every person in America who eats (and you know who you are), tip your hat to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Morrill, and thank them for what was created all those years ago.
As we celebrate Lincoln's 200th and his impact on our country, the passage of this law is a but a small legacy, but with a dynamic impact on the country and the world. Keep it in mind with all of Lincoln's other accomplishments. We all owe the great man a superb debt of gratitude. Thanks.