Alabama Cooperative Extension System

By Dr. Tom Vaughan ’55 | Dean Emeritus

Veterinary medicine’s early debt to agriculture at A.P.I. has been cited in reference to its first 14 years (1893-1907) as the Department of Physiology and Veterinary Science in the Agricultural Experiment Station. Long before that, the Morrill Act of 1863 which established the land-grant A&M colleges, and the Hatch Act of 1887 which funded the Agricultural Experiment Stations, laid the foundations that supported 10 of the 11 schools of veterinary medicine that survived the turn of the century, the Great Depression, and two world wars (1879-1944). What has not been acknowledged are the contributions of the Agricultural Extension Service made possible by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. All of these federally funded programs were established as cooperative ventures between the state land-grant colleges and the federal government, jointly funded so as to avoid the vagaries of state government appropriations to teaching institutions. It was equally true to say that it extended that early cooperation between the schools of veterinary medicine and the schools of agriculture in a formal sense. Be it remembered that one of Dr. Cary’s first assignments in the Agricultural Experiment Station was as director of the state-wide Farmers’ Institutes, which was pure extension work. His leadership in this area declined somewhat after 1910 as Dr. Duncan’s responsibilities increased; Duncan was appointed director of Agricultural Extension Service in 1920. However, Dr. Cary continued his outreach to agriculture throughout his life, no doubt accounting for the acceptance and cooperation by the farm community. This influence was magnified by Dr. McAdory’s participation which was reflected in his popularity with livestock producers at a time when southern agriculture was undergoing diversification from a cotton culture to an increasingly animal agriculture.

Nowhere was this cooperation more apparent than in the high profile given veterinary medicine in the regular periodicals published by the A.C.E.S. producing a veritable chronology on a periodical basis (monthly and annually), rendered more significant in that it was cast against a backdrop of events statewide as well as at A.P.I. An early example was the impressive account of disease prevention and control, e.g., examination of the horse for soundness, the care of the milk cow with emphasis on good management and husbandry, all species and types including sheep, swine, cattle, horses and mules, poultry, dairy cows and beef cattle, brood sows and feeder pigs. Through none other than Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, these efforts extended to the Tuskegee Institute which initiated “movable schools” featuring the Jessup wagon used for on-the-farm demonstrations of practical agricultural methods. The meetings of the Farmers’ Institutes were divided into: 1) animal husbandry and dairying, 2) farm women, 3) agronomy and soils (especially soil-building programs, erosion control, crop rotation, green manure crops, and legumes), 4) horticulture and forestry, 5) poultry, 6) veterinary, and 7) home demonstration clubs.

An interesting report appeared in the December 1923 issue of The Alabama Farmer announcing that mule power in the U.S. was on the increase, statistics showing that the population had gone from 4,209,869 in 1910 to 5,432,301, a 29 percent gain. In a parenthetical aside, cultivation of row crops—cotton and corn—as late as the mid- to late-1930s still relied heavily on mules, worked principally with tenant labor. Alabama, at the time, had one of the largest populations of mules and oxen in the country, this despite the popular conception that tractors had displaced equine traction, which may have been true in the Midwest and North, but not in the South.

In April 1927 The Alabama Farm Bureau News published an account of the “The Embattled Farmers,” calling attention to the economic depression during the postwar deflation that bankrupted 26 to 62 percent of the farmers in the Midwest, South, and Northwest by “reducing the purchasing power of the farmer almost to vanishing point.” Multiple factors included: 1) tariffs, 2) taxes, 3) freight rates, 4) the unstable dollar, 5) electric power rates, 6) unfavorable credit system, 7) restraint of trade credit system, 8) failure of legislation and administrative actions for favorable cooperative marketing, and 9) need for a Federal Export Corporation to dispose of farmers’ surplus crops abroad. To this list could be added the invasion of the South by the cotton boll weevil from Mexico. Cotton farmers had the lowest or next to the lowest income of all farmers in the nation, which was the strongest argument for diversification of Southern agriculture with a growing emphasis on animal agriculture.

It was on December 31, 1928, that L.N. Duncan’s annual report for 1928 included notable mention of Dr. R.S. Sugg, Livestock Specialist with responsibility for the state as a whole.1

Home demonstration agents were faced with the daunting problems of sanitation in homes lacking indoor plumbing, running water, electricity, and refrigeration. Food preservation was a particular problem. This was addressed by teaching canning methods. In 1934, eight million cans were put up. Also, it begs the question of pasteurization of raw milk in combatting the problem of tuberculosis and explains the prevalence of typhoid fever and food-borne illness.

The Extension Livestock Plan of Work for 1934 addressed the old familiar list of depressed production due to low prices. Over 10 percent of Alabama farms had no milk cow, over half the farms had no brood sow, and over 30 percent had no beef cattle. Horses and mules were past their prime and replacements were expensive. Most farms had no sheep. Causes were the result of one-crop farming (cotton), tenant farmers, neglected pastures and feed crops, lack of fencing, lack of winter feed, inferior bloodstock, late calving, parasitism, cur dogs, and so on. In poultry, the common diseases of fowl pox, roup, limber neck, and parasites (internal and external), were further exacerbated by the prevalence of bacillary white diarrhea (pullorum) for which there was no cure.

The Extension Plan of Work for 1935 (Burns and Sugg) estimated more horses, fewer mules; more beef and dairy cattle; fewer hogs than in 1934. However, by 1935, the value of all farm animals had increased to $56,684,000, a 15 percent increase over 1934’s $47,889,000. More home production of feedstuff was necessary to offset high feed prices.

Hog production and meat preservation would benefit from improved slaughtering, cutting, trimming, and preservation methods including chilling, curing, and storage. In keeping with improvements in cutting and curing, curing in ice plants accounted for two million pounds preserved in 1934.

Poultry losses were more reduced the last three years by vaccination for fowl pox—250,000 pullets the previous year. The B.W.D. pullorum elimination project was ongoing. It was also in 1935 that Dean Cary died. Dr. McAdory was made dean of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Duncan became president of A.P.I. The angry winds of the Great Depression subsided somewhat, and the fortunes of Alabama agriculture showed signs of turning the corner.

In summary, the contributions of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service [now the Alabama Cooperative Extension System] to the School of Veterinary Medicine can be traced to the beginnings of the concept of extension at the State Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama and the Farmers’ Institutes established in 1888 and greatly organized under the direction of Charles Allen Cary during his early tenure. These Institutes and Farmers’ Summer Schools continued under Cary’s direction until 1920 when Luther Noble Duncan was appointed director of the Extension Service by President Spright Dowell. Dr. Duncan truly gave his life to Alabama agriculture and the Alabama Farmer and, as such, became a household word in every farm family in the State. His credibility in Alabama agriculture was unimpeachable, and indeed A.P.I.’s very survival during the Great Depression can be credited to the leadership he provided, using as his platform the bedrock foundation of A.P.I.’s dedication to the State, its people, its industries, and all the values we hold dear.

As part and parcel of the enterprise, the decade of experience that Dr. R.S. Sugg acquired as an integral member of the Extension Service’s role in the state’s animal agriculture prepared him so well for the role he was to assume as dean of the school that it defies imagination how anyone could have been prescribed a better course of study. By 1940, Sugg’s name also was writ large on the wall of Alabama agriculture, with the capital to endow the future success of his school.


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1Due to financial problems suffered from the Farmers’ Depression of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, many A.P.I. faculty were forced to take temporary “leaves of absence” to pursue other, more gainful employment opportunities until conditions at Auburn improved. Thus it was that Dr. Sugg held positions of responsibility in ACES until his appointment as Dean of Veterinary Medicine on July 1, 1940.