History of Research at the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service
Science Flourish at 1890 Schools
ARS maintains a committment to students at 1890 schools and throughout the
public education system.
were brewing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as America headed into the
last decade of the l9th century.
Although the department had been created 28
years earlier by Abraham Lincoln, the year 1890 found USDA leaders still
savoring the department's elevation to cabinet status only I year before.
At USDA's helm was agriculture secretary
Jeremiah McLain Rusk, a Wisconsin farmer, Civil War hero, and strong believer
in getting information to farmers. It was Rusk who pushed for the publication
of informative Farmers Bulletins, first by USDA's Office of Experiment Stations
and later by the department itself.
Also in 1890, there was an update to the 1862
Morrill Act, which provided for the establishment of at least one land-grant
college in each state.
Although the Morrill Act of 1890 was passed
to further fund those 1862 institutions, it contained a history-making
provision: that states practicing racial discrimination in admissions to 1862
schools could not share in the additional funds provided by the 1890 act.
In many states, the direct result of that
provision was the creation of separate land-grant schools for blacks. Several
southern states either established a new school or took over an existing
institution and designated it as a land-grant institution.
Seventeen institutions are now officially
recognized as1890 Schoolsone in each of 15 states, plus two in Alabama.
But 12 of these institutions actually predate the Morrill Act of 1890, and not
all were established by their state legislatures.
For example, the first of the 1890 Schools,
Lincoln University at Jefferson City, Missouri, was actually founded in 1866
with funds from Civil War veterans.
|Historically Black Land-Grant
||Lincoln University, Missouri
||Alcorn University, Mississippi
||South Carolina StateUniversity
||University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff
||Alabama A&M University
||Prairie View A&M University, Texas
||Southern University, Louisiana
||Tuskegee University, Alabama
||Virginia State University
||Kentucky State University
||University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
||Florida A&M University
||Delaware State College
||North Carolina Agriculture and Technology State University
||Fort Valley State College, Georgia
||Langston University, Oklahoma
||Tennessee State University
|Although originally established to
expressly meet the educational needs of African Americans, these colleges today
provide instruction to widely diverse student bodies.
University of Maryland Eastern Shore, was founded in 1886 by the Methodist
Research has always been part of the mission
of 1890 Schools, but fulfillment of that mission was often hindered by lack of
money. Research funds usually went to the 1862 schools, although there were
exceptionsthe branch experiment station established in 1887 at Prairie
View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, for example, and the experiment
station established at Tuskegee University in 1897.
As the 100th anniversary of the 1890 Morrill
Act neared, the research outlook at the historically black land grant
institutions was considerably brighter. But there were those in USDA who felt
the department could do more to help.
In 1988, USDA began what is called the
USDA/1890 Initiative, recalls Korona I. Prince, special programs manager
in the office of Agricultural Research Service administrator R. Dean
The sole purpose of that initiative was
to encourage a partnership between USDA and the 1890 Schools. It was initiated
by USDA, beginning with a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in
From that Nashville meeting, attended by 1890
School deans and presidents as well as USDA officials, was born a list of 17
These included sending USDA
personnelsuch as ARS researchers to 1890 campuses to work on
specific projects; establishment of USDA liaisons on each of the campuses;
student outreach programs; and a Capacity-Building Grants Program.
Under the latter program, schools
submit grant proposals for important areas of research they'd like to do,
says William H. Tallent, ARS assistant administrator. The aim is for them
to build their institutions' capacity to contribute to science.
Congress appropriates the money, which is
administered by the Office of Higher Education Programs in USDA's Cooperative
State Research Service.
In the first year of the program, which began
October 1, 1989 (fiscal year 1990), Congress appropriated $5 million; 4 years
later, for FY 1993, it was $10.25 million.
Each grant must have a cooperating USDA
agency. Of the 22 research grants approved for funding in 1992, ARS was one of
the cooperating agencies on 18, Tallent notes. We work on everything from
new crops to flavor components of goat's milk.
But Tallent points out the capacity-building
grantsand even the 1890 Initiative of 1989were not ARS' first
encounter with 1890 Schools.
We've had programs for years to
encourage our scientists to work with 1890 Schools, he says. Before
the Capacity-Building Grants Program began, ARS had its own program, with about
$500,000 in annual funding. We'd either conduct a research project with an 1890
School or sponsor a postdoctoral researcher on an 1890 campus.
Nor has ARS involvement been limited to the
17 traditional 1890 Schools.
ARS has worked with many of the
historically black colleges and universitiesthere's a total of 117
nationwide, including the Virgin Islandssince the 1970's, adds
Visit ARS' site designed specifically for students:
Science for Kids
Student outreach is another area where ARS
involvement predates the 1890 Initiative of 1989.
In the Career Enrichment Program, dating to
the early 1980's, high school seniors bound for Delaware State College at Dover
first spend a summer working in ARS laboratories. That program is jointly
sponsored by ARS and other USDA agencies working with the Delaware Cooperative
A similar program called BAYOUfor
Beginning Agriculture Youth Opportunity Unitinvolves not only
incoming freshmen, but also college science students at Southern University at
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In other outreach programs, students from the Chicago
HighSchool for Agricultural Sciences spend the summer on the campuses of
Kentucky State and Tennessee State Universities and work in ARS labs. ARS and
USDA's Soil Conservation Service fund that program.
We do all this because we realize these
students are our future, says Prince. We need to get good students
into agricultural sciences, and this is a way to do it.
In November l992, USDA agency heads and 1890
institution presidents met to set new goals for the 1890 Initiative.
One of these was to establish centers of
excellenceconcentrations of expertise on particular agricultural subjects
at each of the 1890 Schools.
Within the next decade, we'd like to
have a center of excellence on each of the 1890 campuses, says Tallent.
The universities tell us what they'd like to have a center on, and the
various USDA agencies have the option to help.
ARS is working with four or five
proposals, seeking about half a million dollars for each. USDA will decide how
many to go with overall and go to Congress for funding. The first year that may
be funded is FY 1994.
Roses are an important American nursery crop.
Among the proposals supported by ARS is the
creation of a nursery crop production center at McMinnville, Tennessee, as part
of Tennessee State University.
Tennessee State acquired 87 acres of
land at McMinnville in the center of the nursery industry there, recalls
Howard J. Brooks, ARS associate deputy administrator for plant sciences.
Nursery crops are a big business in Tennessee; producers there grow most
of the ornamental trees and shrubs for the eastern seaboard.
The Tennessee State proposal calls for
sending selected plant material from ARS' National Arboretum breeding program
at Washington, D.C., to McMinnville.
The arboretum, in its breeding program
with landscape shrubs and trees, might have 10,000 seedlings, Brooks
explains. They would select several that look the best and send them to
the center of excellence, where nursery specialists could help select the very
best and recommend commercial production.
ARS is helping with the design of a new
laboratory and office building, he continues. We're also working
closely with Tennessee State personnel on the concept of how the program might
be expanded over the years to include ARS personnel actually doing research at
Separate from the centers of excellence
proposal, ARS is already in the second year of a 3-year cooperative agreement
with Tennessee State to develop a plan for evaluating nursery plant material in
the area, Brooks notes.
Our intent is to serve the entire U.S.
nursery industry, he says. If a new landscape plant would grow in
Tennessee, it probably would do well in other states with similar
Comparison of rice varieties:
Top row L-R: Calrose, Kosanbare
Middle row L-R: Nanking Sel, A301, Keyeena
Bottom row L-R: Nortai, Koshikahari
Another example of the ongoing association
between ARS and 1890 Schools is the work done at the University of Arkansas at
Pine Bluff. It involves evaluation of rice germplasm to find lines that would
perform well in nonflooded fieldsjust like corn or wheat.
In 1987, ARS had a pilot program for
competitive grants for research with 1890 Schools, says Robert H. Dilday,
a geneticist with the ARS Rice Production and Weed Control Research Unit at
Mazo Price of the University of
Arkansas at Pine Bluff worked with me on a proposal for cooperative research to
develop techniques for evaluating rice germplasm for drought tolerance. That
project was subsequently funded for 1987 and 1988.
While the typical image of rice is that of
lush green plants growing in flooded fields, Dilday says rising cost and
declining availability of irrigation water may push some rice crops of the
future to dry land in certain areas of the United States.
We've made rice into a very-high-input
crop because it yields more if fields are flooded, plus flooding the fields is
a very good way to control major dryland weeds such as morningglory, he
says. But the fact is that 47 percent of the rice grown in the world is
under natural rainfed conditions.
Price, Dilday's partner in the project, is
now dean of the university's School of Agriculture and Home Economics, as well
as director of 1890 research and extension programs at the university. But he
spent the late 1970's and early 1980's in eastern Africa, working to develop
varieties of crops such as pigeon peas, sorghum, and millet that could stand
the trials of low soil fertility and scarce water.
When I came back to the United States
in 1986, I had the idea that we really needed to work on drought-tolerant crops
in this country, says Price. We have water now, but the time may
come when it is lacking.
In 1987, with their funds from ARS, Dilday
and Price evaluated 50 rice germplasm lines that had previously evidenced some
drought tolerance or better use of available water. Some of the lines came from
the International Rice Research Institute at Los Baños in the
Philippines; others, from the U.S. rice collection containing more than 16,000
varieties from 99 countries.
The researchers used a long-known technique
called root pulling resistance, which correlates the difficulty in pulling a
plant from the ground with its degree of root development.
We tried to relate root development to
drought tolerance, says Dilday. There is a relationship, but there
are other factors as wellleaf size, leaf shape, the opening and closing
of the leaf's stomates. We were the first to show this relationship in
In the second year of the project, Dilday and
Priceused an Image Capture and Analysis System at the university to reveal
differences in the visual image of drought-tolerant versus drought-sensitive
We've had this system for several
years, says Price. You take a video picture of plants in the field,
bring it back to the lab, and hook it to a computer.
On the basis of leaf color and factors
such as the amount of light absorbed and reflected, this system can provide
information on the plants' photosynthetic activity, as well as tell whether
they have disease damage or other conditions.
Once we get this system perfected in
terms of screening for drought tolerance, it will be a much faster test than
root pulling resistance.
Under the Adopt-a-school Program, student Alijha Griffin (left) helps ARS
technician Steven Lyle test a milk beverage developed at the ARS National
Center for Agricultural Utlization Research.
Another ARS/1890 project involves the ARS
Protozoan Diseases Laboratory at Beltsville, Maryland.
When word went out in 1987 that the agency
had research funds available for cooperative work with 1890 Schools, ARS
microbiologist Michael D. Ruff saw an opportunity to take a crack at solving a
There are nine species of single-celled
organisms called coccidia that are listed as affecting chickens and causing a
disease called coccidiosis, explains Ruff. But one of them,
Eimiria mivati, may not really exist.
Coccidiosis is bad news for poultry farmers,
costing them some $300 million a year$200 million in lost production,
because birds don't grow as they should, and another $100 million for
When a new drug against coccidiosis
comes along, the Food and Drug Administration requires that it be cleared
against all the common species of coccidia, including E. mivati,
explains Ruff. But if mivati doesn't really exist, that's one less
test to do.
On the other hand, Ruff adds, if
mivati does exist and we don't include protection against it in
vaccines, it could have a significant impact on the poultry industry.
Coccidia do not 'cross-protect.' If you
vaccinate a chicken against one species of coccidia, the chicken's immune
system protects it only from that species of coccidianot against all the
others as well.
When the ARS cooperative funds became
available, Ruff joined forces with Steve Fitz-Coy of the poultry diseases
department at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Steve was at Princess Anne, Maryland,
and had ready access to commercial poultry operations, explains Ruff.
He'd get cultures of coccidiosis, purify them, and send them to us for
testing. He looked at several hundred cultures and from those, found two or
three to send to us that looked promising.
Once the cultures arrived at Beltsville,
Ruff's lab did a variety of tests to determine if the culprit was
mivati. For example, chickens were vaccinated against other species of
coccidia, then infected with a possible E. mivati. Since the vaccination
would protect against species other than mivati, the researchers knew
that if the infection, stymied by the vaccination, failed to run its course,
the culture in hand was not mivati.
We've gotten several cultures that look
close to what I knew as mivati 20 years ago, says Ruff. I
think there definitely was an E. mivatiat one time.
Fitz-Coy has since left the UM Eastern Shore
faculty to work for American Cyanamid, but the project is continuing, Ruff
People in the field are sending us
cultures to check, he says. This is a good example of why we have
cooperative work with 1890 Schools we couldn't have started this as
easily without Fitz-Coy sending us those original isolates.
and Milk Products
One aspect of the ARS initiative in
1987 was to establish a series of postdoctoral positions at 1890 Schools,
working on campus and collaborating with ARS scientists, recalls Harold
M. Farrell, Jr., a supervisory research chemist in the Biochemistry and
Chemistry of Lipids Laboratory at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center
(ERRC) at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alden Reine, who was then director of
research at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, contacted
John Cherry, the ERRC director. Prairie View had established an International
Dairy Goat Center, wanting to carve a research niche for itself in dairy goat
work. Reine knew that back in the 1980's, we had done some dairy goat milk
Prairie View and ERRC later entered a
cooperative research agreement and hired a postdoctoral researcher, Adela
Mora-Gutierrez, who began working at Prairie View in May 1989 on casein in
dairy goat milk.
Casein is a major protein in
milk, Farrel1 explains. It keeps phosphate and calcium in the milk
soluble so they can pass out of the udder. Without it, they'd become
crystalsand that wouldn't make milk a very nice product to drink.
The scientific community had long held that
casein in goat's milk and cow's milk was basically the same, with the exception
of one protein missing from goat's milk.
Farrell says French scientists in recent
years discovered that the elusive protein not only was present in goat's milk
after all, but could differ from goat to goat in its ability to carry calcium
The ARS research teamMora-Gutierrez at
Prairie View, Farrell and others at Philadelphiafound that virtually all
goats differ in their levels of alpha casein, the best of four major caseins in
ability to carry calcium and phosphate.
We found one goat that had about 30
percent as much as a cow, Farrell notes.
Much to their surprise, the scientists found
that a goat could havevery low alpha casein levels and still boast high calcium
content in its milk.
Also, we thought that if a goat's milk
was missing alpha casein, which is great at carrying calcium, and you added
calcium to the milk, it would just clot up, Farrell recalls. But
surprisingly, the exact reverse occurred. In processing, the high-alpha milk
was more likely to clot up.
When Mora-Gutierrez's 2 years as an ARS
postdoc wound up in 1991, she was hired immediately to continue research at
Prairie View, much to the delight of her ARS co-workers.
Although the Prairie View research has
uncovered surprising new information about goat's milk composition and physical
properties, the ARS/1890 collaboration there promises to yield even greater
long-term rewards, says Mora-Gutierrez.
I'll be teaching food chemistry,
starting in 1993, as part of a new curriculum option in food science and
nutrition at Prairie View. Our students will be able to say, We have a
research scientist right here on campus, and she is our professor. It
will give motivation for our students to consider careers in agricultural
At the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff,
Mazo Price sees the ARS cooperation with 1890 Schools as an enrichment process
for the universities.
When we can draw on expertise like
Robert Dilday's and transfer that knowledge to the university, it tremendously
enhances our own ability to do research, he says.
And I say if you enhance the research
capability of a scientist, you make a better teacher of that scientist, so the
benefits are passed on to our students. The students can come to the field and
see the type of research we're doing, read the publications, and even
participate in the research.
Between us and ARS, I would argue that
this type of cooperative effort benefits us more because it enhances
significantly our capacity to provide quality research and
teaching.By Sandy Miller Hays, ARS.
"ARS Helps Science Flourish at 1890
Schools" was published in the February 1993
issue of Agricultural Research
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