The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 led to the official establishment of the Cooperative Extension Service at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, and the other land-grant colleges, but extension outreach had already been going on for over ten years.
In 1903, Dr. Seaman Knapp, a special agent with the USDA, built community farming plots on the Walter Porter Farm near Terrell Texas. Knapp’s intent was to demonstrate the USDA’s newly recommended methods of selection, fertilizing and cultivating crops. His program was such a success, thirty-three agents were the following year to help Texas farmers deal with their specific issues. These demonstrations set the foundation for Cooperative Extension.
On Sept. 8, 1907, Tom Marks of Jacksboro, Texas, formed an agriculture club that was the forerunner of Extension 4-H. A special county agent, Marks encountered resistance from farmers when he tried to convince them to adopt new, intensive farming methods. Instead of fighting the men, Marks turned to the youth of Jack County and formed the Jack County Boys’ Corn Club.
One hundred eleven boys were each given a gallon of new varieties of corn seeds. The boys cultivated their crops under the supervision of Marks, and the following year their corn was displayed at the first County Fair in Texas. Ninety-one boys and thirty older men entered exhibits in the fair. The success of the boys’ crops convinced some of the older farmers to use the new seed and employ the new farming techniques.
Soon Pig Clubs, Beef Clubs and, in 1912, a girls’ Tomato Club formed. Marks travelled across the state promoting the idea of agriculture clubs, until state and federal officials finally took notice and the Agriculture Extension Service was formed.
Today AgriLife Extension provides research-based education opportunities in a multitude of areas from farming and ranching, to estate planning. In Soil and Crop Sciences, Extension programs include subjects such as growing olives, soil testing, new technologies in weed management, and, of course, 4-H.