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Horticulture Needs a Strong National Voice!
Dr. Norman F. Childers, Ph.D.

In fact, all agriculture needs a strong National voice.  Whose job is this?  The American Farm Bureau?  Local farmer/grower leadership?  Or, is it the responsibility of us all to take part in trying to build back the former strength and production of our Internationally famous Land Grant College System- for the growers, the farmers, and certainly the consumers.  It was the envy of world agriculture.

Following is a letter to the President of the American Society of Horticultural Sciences that summarizes the main problem at the Nation's Land Grant Colleges of agriculture.  Farmers and growers well know their need for reliable unbiased research, extension and teaching from the LGC System and the growing integration and influence of big private corporations in their guidance and service.  The private sector now contributes about 60% of the funding for the LGC agricultural research, accounting for a 4.5% increase yearly since 1980.  Federal and state funding has dropped about 8%.  More public money with a limit to private funding is needed for proper operation of the LGC system.  Good safe reliable food is important!!

Back in 1984, at the British Columbia, Canada, Annual Meeting of the American Society of Horticultural Sciences, a Dr. T.J. Army of the USDA Coop. State Research Service in Washington, D.C., told a group of horticultural administrators that federal money allotted directly to and solely to agriculture now also had been opened for grants submitted from non-Land Grant universities, such as Harvard and Yale, and that "ag" people would be in competition with these botanists, biologists, genetic engineers etc., for agricultural money.  Dr. Army's last statement was "So, go at it boys!"  Apparently, it was too late to complain so there were no gripes or plans to try to make adjustments.  It happened... and some of these non-horticultural high-tech outsiders started moving into horticultural job openings with their grant money, squeezing out horticulturalists.
Horticulturalists had trouble getting grants, finding that if they mentioned a crop in a grant application such as apple or tomato, there was little chance of the grant being allotted.  Some tried leaving out a commodity name and occasionally (two of 10 tries) got a grant.  It seemed "outsiders" had taken over the "decision making committee" in Washington.  In other words, horticulturalists have lost their identity as qualified to do high-tech research, even though we had been trained and had been doing productive "basic research" since the 1930's.  This also happened in other areas of agriculture.  The trend has broken the close relationship between agricultural experiment stations and the growers and farmers that we formerly had (the new faculty does not speak farmer language and seems disinterested), destroying our ability to work through farmers and get their full cooperation.  The growers also have gradually lost much of their source of unbiased research information.  This trend has hurt the teaching of horticulture in state universities and the training of teachers and professionals in the industry.  We now are hiring people into horticultural jobs with little or no training in horticulture to teach horticulture and do horticulture research.  With less public money, applicants for horticultural jobs must show talent to successfully recruit their own research money.  In summary, the inefficient misdirected grant system in Land Grant agricultural colleges is the basic problem.  How can we get this whole thing unscrewed?  It seems impossible.  High-tech research is needed, but it is out of balance.  I believe only a group of powerful farmers and growers can go to Congress in Washington and get this turned around so we are back to getting adequate annual budgeting of public money directly to agricultural deans, then department heads for them to distribute the funds according to the local farmer/grower needs.  That's the way it was up to about the early 1960's.
In other words, we need an active horticultural oversight group to keep aware of what goes on, look out for horticulture, promote horticulture, and not let us be caught off guard heading in the wrong direction.