Brookings, SD— U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) today joined in the South Dakota State University’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act. The legislation led to the expansion of higher education across the country, including the eventual establishment of SDSU.
A copy of his remarks is below, as prepared for delivery:
It was 150 years ago today that President Lincoln signed legislation into law creating the land-grant university system. That was a big year for agriculture. In the midst of the Civil War, Congress and President Lincoln took several historic steps that would have a lasting impact on American agriculture and society. In addition to the Morrill Land Grant College Act, the Department of Agriculture was established, the Homestead Act was signed into law to offer 160 acres of public land to individuals wanting to migrate West, and the Pacific Railway Act supported construction of the first transcontinental railroad. With America at war with itself, President Lincoln recognized that the future of the country would rely on a productive agriculture industry, and he laid the groundwork for the network of public research institutions we have today.
Agricultural research, and specifically the critical work being done right here at SDSU under the leadership of President Chicoine, Dean Barry Dunn, and Kevin Kephart, is the lynchpin to ensuring that our producers will continue to be able to feed, clothe, and fuel an ever-growing world population. Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who either don’t understand or ignore the role that research, education, and extension through our land-grants play in agricultural productivity.
While I am committed to returning our country to a responsible, long-term budget, I firmly believe we must continue making smart investments in our country’s future. Addressing our nation’s growing debt will require give-and-take from both sides of the aisle, and I am committed to working with my colleagues to put our country on a sustainable path forward. I am concerned, however, by some in Congress who want domestic programs, like education and research, to bear the brunt of spending cuts. This approach would have a devastating impact on our state and country’s economy, infrastructure, and workforce. The investments we have made in SDSU and other land grants have paid off many times over through the development of talented young people and innovative, cutting edge projects.
I’ve been able to point to the research being done here in my work on the Senate Appropriations Committee. For example, because of the leadership SDSU has shown in the area of feedstock development for bioenergy production, I’ve been able to secure critical funding for the Sun Grant Initiative, despite efforts by some to cut this valuable initiative. SDSU plays a leading role in the national network of Sun Grant institutions. Additionally, some have targeted the Hatch Act and Smith-Lever programs, which support the basic research and extension functions of the land-grant system. While it is critical that we get our country’s fiscal house in order, it would be shortsighted to undercut the important work being done at our land grants.
As the main economic pillar and largest industry in our great state, it’s important that we acknowledge and celebrate the economic importance of agriculture. According to the South Dakota Department of Ag, the industry has a $20 billion economic impact each year, accounting for one third of the state’s economic activity and supporting more than 140,000 jobs. The excellent education that our students receive here at SDSU and other land-grant institutions translates into continued economic vitality in rural communities across the country.
This is an important day for us gathered here and for others across the country. It seems fitting that we celebrate the birth of our land grants in the same week as the birth of our country.