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A century of Extension: NDSU service celebrates 100 years as ‘a people business’

Press Photo by Mike Hricik Holly Praus, left, and Amber Hofstad, who both work for the Sunrise Youth Bureau, enjoy refreshments at the Stark/Billings County NDSU Extension Service open house held Thursday in Dickinson.

North Dakota State University’s Extension Service celebrated its 100th anniversary on Thursday — commemorating more than a lifetime of education for communities statewide.

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On May 8, 1914, the Smith-Lever Act was signed, translating land-grant university research into practical applications for communities and farmers across the country.

In 2013, Extension faculty and staff members interacted with North Dakotans almost a million times, according to NDSU statistics.

In 1922, the federal government budgeted $52,607 for extension services in the state, according to an online report titled “Annual Report of the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.” Adjusted for inflation, that comes to a little less than $800,000 in 2014 dollars.

The North Dakota state budget allotted more than $48 million to Extension from 2011 to 2013.

Thomas Cooper, North Dakota’s first Extension director from 1914 to 1917, said that his hope for the service was that “men and women may develop within themselves the ability to bring about a better condition in the community.”

Extension agents in southwest North Dakota said that their mission has changed little, even as technology has revolutionized farming in the 21st century.

“Travel to a country that doesn’t have an extension service, and you’ll see the impact extension has had here,” Dickinson Research Extension Center Director Kris Ringwall said. “We spread valuable ideas.”

Extension target four main areas: agriculture and natural resources, community vitality, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development.

Some Extension workers hold fond memories of 4-H, getting them interested in their careers.

Hettinger County Extension Agent Duaine Marxen is one of them. He got involved in 4-H at age 10 and now leads it county-wide.

“4-H is still so relevant,” said Marxen, proudly talking about awards that 4-H children in his county have won.

Oliver County Extension Agent Rick Schmidt said research shared by the service moves so quickly that farming today doesn’t resemble what it was 20 years ago, when he first started.

North Dakota producers have gone from widely tilling soil to not tilling at all on most farms, he said.

As an agent, Schmidt said he is constantly confronted by interesting problems.

“I visited one of our producers the other day, and he said, ‘I want your job. It’s something new every day,’” Schmidt said.

The Stark/Billings County NDSU Extension Service held an open house to recognize the anniversary, complete with cupcakes arranged in the shape of “100.”

Stark/Billings County Kurt Froelich bemoaned the first time he used a computer to calculate cattle rations for his job in the early 1980s. Since then, the learning curve for has been decidedly less steep, he said.

Ringwall said his organization simply streamlines what people have been doing for centuries: learning from what their neighbor is doing next door.

“Extension has always been a people business,” Ringwall said.