USDA Celebrates 150th Anniversary

The U.S. Department of Agriculture celebrated its 150th anniversary on May 15, 2012, with a series of events at both national and state levels. In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama issued a proclamation in honor of the event. The Presidential Proclamation begins:

“On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to establish the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and codified a commitment to the health of our people and our land. One hundred and fifty years later, USDA continues to realize that vision of service by applying sound public policy and science to an evolving food and agriculture system.” (Read more of the “Presidential Proclamation.”)

In Oklahoma, state leaders of USDA agencies gathered in the Blue Room at the state Capitol to commemorate the event. Also attending and participating were legislators and leaders and representatives of partner agencies and agricultural organizations. State Sen. Eddie Fields and Rep. Phil Richardson, chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Agriculture Committees, read a Legislative Citation they co-authored in honor of the anniversary. (Read the wording of the “Citation of Recognition.”) Garrett King, field representative for U.S. Congressman Frank Lucas, read a message from Lucas congratulating USDA and commending its role in the history and success of the nation.

image of State USDA leaders
State USDA leaders with the authors of a Legislative Citation. From left are Ryan McMullin, Rural Development state director; Ron Hilliard, NRCS state conservationist; Francie Tolle, Farm Service Agency state executive director; Sen. Eddie Fields and Rep. Phil Richardson.

Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, was among the speakers featured at the event. Pope spoke about USDA’s conservation legacy and the critically important role that conservation has played in Oklahoma history. “Oklahoma has always been a leader in conservation, since the days of the Dust Bowl,” Pope said. “And without that legacy of conservation, Oklahoma could not be the productive, beautiful state that we enjoy today,” he said.

“The Oklahoma Conservation Commission applauds the U.S. Department of Agriculture on its 150th anniversary,” said Ben Pollard, OCC assistant director, “and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency that we and local conservation districts work with most closely. This year, 2012,” Pollard went on to say “also marks the 75th anniversary of the Conservation District Enabling Act that paved the way for the creation of Oklahoma’s 87 local conservation districts,” he said. “For the most recent half of USDA’s existence, — since the days of the Dust Bowl — NRCS success has been achieved through voluntary cooperative programs with local landowners through local conservation districts and other partners,” Pollard said.

Ron Hilliard, NRCS state conservationist, noted that after President Lincoln signed legislation to create the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over the next two months — in the midst of the Civil War — he signed additional legislation expand and transform American farming, including the Homestead Act and the establishment of the Land Grant agricultural university system. “President Lincoln was being true to his farm boy roots as he enacted a vision shared earlier by Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in committing federal government to assist farmers and ranchers in their role of producing food for our growing nation,” Hilliard said.

Related editorials on The Oklahoman newspaper’s NewsOK website:

“Conservation programs paying off” Gayle Reams, Bethany. Published May 28, 2012.