USDA Celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Outlook Forum, scheduled for the end of the month, will celebrate President Abraham Lincoln.

In addition to discussing the major trends affecting the agricultural sector, the forum will celebrate the achievements of Abraham Lincoln and his role in pioneering the creation of the USDA and work his administration did in shaping American farm policy.

In 1862, in the midst of the American Civil War, Congress passed the Department of Agriculture act, empowering the president to appoint a Commissioner of Agriculture who would head the Department. The Commissioner was charged with gathering and preserving agricultural information (such as agricultural experiments, cultivation statistics, collecting plant information, etc.) and reporting this information to Congress annually. While the Commissioner was not a cabinet level job until 1889, the act was a major milestone for the centralization of agricultural policy.

In addition to laying the foundation for the modern USDA, the Lincoln administration helped guide the development of American farming through their support of the Homestead Act and the Morrill Act. The Homestead Act opened up Western territories to development, allowing American farmers to claim and improve undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi. Between 1862 and 1934, 1.6 million homesteads totaling 270 million acres (about 10 percent of all lands in the United States) were created , vastly expanding American agriculture and creating an economic legacy across the Midwest and the Great Plains that continues to this day. The Morrill Act supported this opening of western land by granting federal land to states for the creation of agricultural universities. Many of these land-grant universities are the centers of agricultural research and development today.

Given the legacy of Lincoln to the American agricultural sector, it is altogether fitting and proper that the current leaders of the agricultural sector recognize his lasting impact.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer