SDSU’s Ag Experiment Station powered by historic land grant acts

Erin Beck

The Agricultural Experiment Station is nothing new to campus.

With a vision not only for land grant universities but also for research, Justin Morrill sparked the creation of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 and paved the way for the establishment of the Hatch Act of 1887.

The Hatch Act provides federal funds to land grant universities for agriculturally based research. This has enabled universities to set up agricultural experiment stations as part of the three-fold mission of education, extension and research.

Daniel Scholl is the associate dean of the College of Ag/Bio and also acts as the director of the Ag Experiment Station at SDSU.

“Our objective is to create knowledge and technologies that allow South Dakotans and people in the region to participate in the ag/bio sciences and economy,” Scholl said.

According to Scholl, the mission of the SDSU Ag Experiment Station is to become engaged and active in ag-related research. Scholl sees this research as not only relevant to the state, but also important when reaching out regionally, nationally and globally.

“The first level of responsibility is to the South Dakota population,” Scholl said.

As formally stated by the United States Department of Agriculture Administrative Manual for the Hatch (Experiment Station) Act as Amended, March 2000, “The scope of agricultural research which may be conducted under the Hatch Act is very broad.”

The USDA Manual for the Hatch Act describes that research as spanning all aspects of agriculture.  It covers soil and water conservation use to biotechnology and livestock production all the way to rural and community development.

As explained by Scholl, the Ag Experiment Station at SDSU isn’t a physical site where research is located, although that was how it originally started out. Scholl describes the Ag Experiment Station as a single research organization with several locations, with research conducted statewide across South Dakota.

“It’s the land grant university’s right arm,” Scholl said.

SDSU acts as the central site for the Ag Experiment Station, which includes all the livestock units and row-crop fields conducting research at State. The rest of the Ag Experiment Station is comprised of field research stations distributed throughout the state.

According to Scholl, SDSU’s campus units and field stations across the state max out at a grand total of 17,000 acres.

The agricultural research that SDSU sees today, which students can oftentimes take for granted, was made possible by Justin Morrill’s push for both the Morrill and Hatch Acts. With the passage of the Hatch Act, Scholl said ag research became formalized within the land grant university.

“When Justin Morrill spoke to defend and promote the Morrill Act, he made reference to the alarming but visible decline in agricultural productivity,” Scholl said. “He was saying that we must learn how to restore fertility to our soils and maintain it. For that we need research.”

During his speech to the House of Representatives in 1858, Morrill saw the need for higher education and research in ag.

“Pass this measure and we shall have done – something to enable the farmer to raise two blades of grass instead of one, something for every owner of land…something for cheap scientific education…something to obtain higher prices for all sorts of agricultural productions,” Morrill said.