History of Extension in Cooper County

The Smith-Lever Act, which authorized establishment of Cooperative Extension Work, was passed by Congress and approved by President Wilson on May 8, 1914.

The Missouri Cooperative Extension Services had actually begun working off campus a few years prior to that date.

Beginning in September 1913, a "farm adviser" from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture was appointed to Cooper County. His name was J.D. Wilson and he served until September 1916. One of his main activities during that period was to assist farmers with an epidemic of hog cholera, which threatened to destroy swine herds throughout Missouri.

The first county farm tour to showcase new production practices was held in July of 1916. A large group of farmers, Farm Bureau representatives and University of Missouri staff traveled to Pilot Grove, Bunceton and Prairie Home.

From September 1916 to 1929, there was no formal extension program in Cooper County, although there is some evidence that programs were conducted by temporary staff during and shortly after World War I. No formal record of those activities has been located.

In March of 1930, the extension office was reopened and John P. Johnson was appointed as county agent for Cooper County. A group of advisers for the Missouri Farmers Association, farmers from throughout the county and representatives of the University of Missouri worked together to determine major programming efforts that extension would be involved in.

The extension office was then located in the hallway of the Cooper County Courthouse when first reopened. This was during the Depression and much of the activity of the office included assisting with government relief programs. The first office secretary was Wihelmina Torbeck Scott.

Another major area of concern at that time was the loss of topsoil that was occurring throughout the county. Mortan Tuttle, a prominent young farmer near Prairie Home was one of the first farmers to work with the extension service in terracing his land. The practice quickly caught on and Cooper County soon was one of the leading counties in the state and nation in installing terraces and conservation practices. This tradition of conservation is still prevalent today.

Other major activities during the early thirties included livestock breeding and animal health. In addition, many farmers became certified seed producers at that time. Farmers also learned about the importance of liming their soils, using crop rotation and legumes to maintain and improve productivity of their farms.

4-H clubs were officially organized for the first time in Cooper County in 1937, although other youth activities had been conducted since 1924 through the public school systems. First your membership included 136 boys and 13 girls. First year activities included attendance at a nine-county camp in Fayette, organization of the county 4-H Leaders Council, County Achievement Day, Cooper County 4-H News, demonstration and judging tours, state 4-H Roundup and a trip to the state fair.

Through the efforts of Paul N. Doll, county agent, and numerous leaders the 4-H program grew quickly in the late 1930s and early '40s.

Extension Homemaker Clubs were also first organized in 1937. A total of eleven clubs were formed within two years. These clubs worked with Margaret Van Orsdol, county home demonstration agent. The main activities that the clubs initially engaged in included home economics, food preservation, sewing, quilting, home grounds improvement and managing family resources.

The extension service was very active during World War II in helping farm families maintain the agricultural production needed for the war effort. In addition, veterans were assisted as they returned to agricultural production. The home economics agents assisted families dealing with the many hardships and scarcities that the war brought on.

Major program efforts in the late '40s included designing water management systems, pasture improvement, forage production, repairing and modernizing machinery, improving livestock production, dairy production, 4-Youth development, rural health and food production and preservation.

In 1945 and 1946, the Balanced Farming Program was established in Cooper County. This program was designed to develop a whole farm approach to production of livestock, forages and crops. Both farm and household management programs were emphasized.

The Balanced Farming Program was extremely successful in Cooper County and throughout the state. It expanded throughout the '50s and was successful in helping farmers throughout the county in developing profitable operations. Special emphasis was placed on increasing livestock production, forage production, crop production and managing farm and home finances.

The programs offered by the extension service in Cooper County continued to expand through the '50s and '60s. In addition to traditional agricultural, 4-H and home economics programs, the extension service offered programs in citizenship, economic development and business management. The concept of extending the knowledge base of the land grant universities widen to include new subject matter areas.

In 1969, the Missouri Extension Service shifted from a system of county agents to an area-specialist system. The purpose of the change was to allow each extension staff member to specialize in one area of study and serve multiple counties. The system remains in effect.

The extension service has changed its focus considerably in recent years. Under the specialist system, assistance is available in numerous program areas. Staff serving the county in the area of ag profitability include agronomy, livestock, ag engineering and farm management specialists.

Staff working to strengthen families include 4-H, human development, family economics and management, and food and nutrition specialists. In addition, specialists are available to provide assistance in community development, business and industry and continuing education.

The extension service is also focusing more effort on issue-based programming. This involves citizen input and working closely with extension councils to identify major program needs.