Jack's Insights July 2018

By Jack Whittier, Director

UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

Dr. Jack Whittier

Today, as we near Independence Day, I write as a proud and grateful American who loves this country and the freedoms it possesses. In mid-June, Robynn and I drove through Madras, Ore., on our way to a professional meeting of the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science, at which I had been invited to speak. As we neared Madras, on Highway 97, we began to notice signs denoting the Erickson Aircraft Collection at Madras Airport. This collection of vintage aircraft has a B-17 World-War-II-era bomber warplane. We pulled into Madras to explore further and found a very nice memorial and display with an overview of the role that Madras played in combat training in the 1940s.

Robynn and I are both admirers of the soldiers who fought in World War II. Both of us have uncles who played active roles in the war. My uncle was in communications and his history indicates that he was part of the chain of communication that carried the secret codes to the pilot of the Enola Gay for the flight to Hiroshima. Robynn’s uncle was just completing his training as a pilot of the B-17 bomber when he was killed in a tragic air collision during a training exercise in Ardmore, Okla. Both Madras and Ardmore were locations for combat schools during the War.

Throughout my career, I have been intrigued by the development of innovations and technologies in agriculture that occurred during and following World War II. The accompanying graph shows U.S. corn yield from 1866 to 2011. Note the stark incline in yield that began in the 1940s and has continued since. I believe this change in trajectory came about due, in large measure, to the learning systems developed during the war effort. Americans rose to the challenge during that era and these attributes carried on afterward, as evidenced by this simple example of increase in corn yield.

Corn yield chart

A key part of this transformation took place at land-grant colleges across the United States. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, the brainchild of Vermont Congressman and later Senator Justin Smith Morrill, which created the land-grant universities in the United States.

Morrill is not a new name to those living in the Panhandle, since the town of Morrill, and Morrill County, both take their name from this key piece of legislation. The establishment of land-grant colleges opened the way to focus more funding toward agricultural research and education. The University of Nebraska, and the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, have been part of the land-grant vision since its inception.

As WWII came to a close, men who joined the military as teenagers came home after the war as adults. The nation wanted to thank them for their service. One way Congress decided to do that became known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. The official title was the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act" and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it in 1944, even before the war ended. (Source: https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/life_20.html)

Many veterans took advantage of this opportunity to improve skills that would help propel agricultural production in the United States to become the leading country for many agricultural products.  Additionally, some veterans chose to continue their education with graduate degrees and became instructors, extension workers and researchers in agricultural universities. In many ways, these veterans set the course for those of us who continue these pursuits. I’m personally grateful for this legacy.

America is a wonderful country. As the county singer Lee Greenwood says, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, and I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”  Have a wonderful Fourth of July, and as you eat of the plentiful food produced by farmers and ranchers, be grateful for the research and education that has occurred to make this possible.


Corn yield (bushels per acre) in the United States from 1866 through 2011. Note the significant increase in yield since World War II. Source: https://plantsciences.missouri.edu/grains/corn/facts.htm