by Jason McDonald, Owner of FiLoLi Tea Farm (Mississippi)
It is my great pleasure to welcome everyone to the United States League of Tea Growers.
I was asked to write this to explain to growers how someone begins approaching universities about projects and grant funding. While I am no expert, I can explain what I did and give you some resources so that you can begin formulating a plan for your individual circumstances.
If you are not aware of the (CSREES) Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_State_Research,_Education,_and_Extension_Service), then you should familiarize yourself with this group and its various programs. CSREES’ mission is to “advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities” by supporting research, education, and extension programs at land-grant universities and other organizations it partners with. CSREES doesn’t conduct its own research; it provides funding and leadership to land-grant universities and competitively granted awards to researchers in partner organizations.
The Smith-Lever Act, which was passed in 1914, established the partnership between agricultural colleges and the USDA to support agricultural extension work. The act also stated that the USDA provide each state with funds based on a population-related formula. Today, CSREES distributes these so-called formula grants annually in cooperation with state and county governments and land-grant universities.
Traditionally, each county of all 50 states had a local extension office. This number has declined as some county offices have consolidated into regional extension centers. Today, there are approximately 2,900 extension offices nationwide. The list of universities with cooperative extension programs is listed at the website mentioned above.
Get to know your county agent because they are paid by the university to help you with anything and everything regarding land management, resource management, and agriculture and many other areas. They also will know professors at the university that can lend a helping hand and make onsite visits if necessary to address issues that may arise on the farm. They can also help coordinate grants with interested professors to further tea research similar to what I have done with Mississippi State University. Since everyone is facing different soils and climates, it will be imperative that every member begin research trials to help establish cultivars that are best suited for their situations. Since money is usually limited, this is an avenue that can cover the costs of research by getting assistance from the USDA in cooperation with the university in your state.
My future installments will cover the USDA and possible programs of benefit to the US League of Tea Growers and will also cover your local departments of agriculture and how they may help. I encourage you all to make an appointment to see your county agent as soon as possible and begin exploring what your university can offer.