Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Brent Batchelor, Regional Program Leader for Agriculture and Natural Resources/4-H Youth Development, Central Region, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
As you begin your career in Extension, we would like to introduce you to one of the most important people in the history of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Dr. Seaman A. Knapp. The late Dr. Knapp’s lessons in outreach education are etched in the hearts of every successful Extension educator today. As well as Extension educators who have been part of Texas Extension’s rich history since W.C. Stallings was appointed as the first County Extension Agent in Smith County Texas in 1906 (more than 7 years prior to the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914).
Dr. Knapp had a distinguished career as a minister, school teacher, college professor, college president, and farmer (Seevers, Graham, Gamon, & Conklin, 1997). In 1879, Dr. Knapp was appointed professor of Agriculture at Iowa State College where he rapidly established a reputation for teaching practical methods in agricultural production practices (Seevers et al, 1997). Dr. Knapp vigorously promoted agriculture education, drafting a federal aid bill to agricultural experiment stations, which in 1887 became the Hatch Act.
In 1896, Dr. Knapp resigned as president of Iowa State College to assume the management of a private company planning to colonize over a million acres in Louisiana (Seevers et al, 1997). While in Louisiana, Dr. Knapp established demonstrations to convince settlers that rice would be the best crop for the area, but the commercial varieties available were unacceptable (Seevers et al, 1997). In an effort to assist Louisiana rice producers Dr. Knapp traveled to the Orient to identify better varieties of rice to introduce to the United States (Seevers et al, 1997).
Dr. Knapp was appointed by the Bureau of Plant Industry of the USDA to encourage farmers to adopt newer farming practices (Seevers et al, 1997). In this position, Dr. Knapp promoted the concept of a demonstration farm and was eventually appointed the head of the program. The farms were designed to demonstrate how to increase yields of the standard crops (Seevers et al, 1997). Dr. Knapp captured his philosophy by saying “what a man hears, he may doubt. What he sees, he may still doubt. But what a man does himself, he cannot doubt.”
The historical event that set the stage for Extension programs nationally occurred when E.H.R. Green, president of the Texas-Midland Railway, became interested in a “community demonstration farm” and invited Dr. Knapp to Terrell, Texas (Seevers et al, 1997). Dr. Knapp convinced local businessmen to raise $900 to ensure against crop losses. Then Walter C. Porter agreed to farm seventy acres according to Dr. Knapp’s instructions (Seevers et al, 1997). The Porter Farm Demonstration attracted much attention when Porter reported that he had made $700 more as a result of farming by Dr. Knapp’s recommendations (Seever et al, 1997).
In 1903, Dr. Knapp received a special allotment of money to establish cooperative demonstrations for cotton farmers facing ruin from the boll weevil (Seevers et al, 1997). About seven thousand demonstrations were enrolled by 1904, and twenty-five to thirty men called “special agents” were appointed that year to work with these demonstrators (Seevers et al, 1997). Cotton yields on demonstration farms were reported to be as large as twice the average yields of farms in the same locations where the demonstration methods were not followed (Seevers et al, 1997). This field man concept was so effective that local farmers and businesspersons in Smith County, Texas, petitioned Dr. Knapp to have a man work exclusively in Smith County. W.C. Stallings was the first county agent appointed in a cooperative agreement with USDA on November 12, 1906.
For more information related to Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, Father of Extension, visit the following website:
For more information regarding the History of the Land-grant System, visit the following website:
Seevers, B., Graham, D., Gamon, J., & Conklin, N., (1997). Education through Cooperative Extension. Albany, NY: Delmar