With a view to bringing the resources of land-grant universities to bear upon problems that people faced daily, the United States Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which instituted the Cooperative Extension Service, on May 8, 1914. Texas A&M joined the service in June 1914, and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service became part of the Texas A&M system. On January 29, 1915, the Texas legislature accepted the provisions of the Smith-Lever Act and assigned the Texas Extension Service to Texas A&M for administration. These actions confirmed an existing system of agricultural extension. United States Cooperative Extension had begun in Texas in 1903, when Seaman A. Knapp worked on the Walter C. Porter Demonstration Farm near Terrell and the Greenville Demonstration Farm near Greenville. The farms, funded by farmers and businessmen, succeeded. As a result, in Smith County in 1906 William C. Stallings became the nation's first county agent. Tom M. Marks organized the first Boys' Corn Club in Texas in Jack County, and this forerunner of Four-H Club activities became important. Girls' clubs, home demonstration, farmers' institutes, and the establishment of a Department of Extension at Texas A&M followed. The Texas legislature passed laws authorizing the county commissioners' court to provide and fund offices and conduct extension work in agriculture and home economics with Texas A&M. On January 16, 1912, in Milam County, Mrs. Edna W. Trigg became the first woman agent in the state. By 1913 demonstrations, shows, and fairs were common throughout Texas.
Federal appropriations matched by state, college, county, or local funds provided the means to institute the Texas Agricultural Extension, with headquarters at Texas A&M and the Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M. In this organization the most important person was the county agent, who worked with people to identify their problems, motivated them, made scientific information available to them, and then helped them use the information. The county agent's primary responsibility was teaching. His goal was to help people to have a higher standard of living and a more enjoyable life. At the state level, Texas A&M named Clarence N. Ousley the first director of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Ousley focused on agricultural production and hired specialists in plant pathology, animal science, dairy science, agronomy, poultry science, horticulture, and agricultural engineering. The program expanded under Ousley's successor, Thomas O. Walton, who left the directorship to become president of Texas A&M. At Prairie View, Robert Lloyd Smith became the first extension director. He was ably assisted by Mary Edwards Hunter, the first Black home-demonstration agent, and J. H. Ford, the first Black district farm demonstration agent. Before leaving Prairie View in 1931 Mary Hunter had built a program of twenty-three home-demonstration agents and a club organization of 29,800 women and girls. From the beginning of her extension career as the first Black extension agent in Wellingham, Smith County, Mrs. Hunter had campaigned for better homes and more canned goods. She had delivered lectures to Blacks and Whites and shared her creative ideas through the Interracial Commission. C. H. Weller took over in 1920 and became a leader in seeking recognition for talented Black county agents. During the 1920s and the Great Depression, Texas county agents, led by Oscar B. Martin, taught adults and youth by conducting demonstrations. Rural Texans were encouraged to use new technology and produce food and fiber as efficiently as possible. Farm management and agricultural-economics studies began. County agents promoted marketing associations, and Howard H. Williamson used New Deal funds to expand the extension staff. Believing that the best way to convey new ideas to women was through their daughters, Lola Blair, the first extension food and nutrition staff specialist, designed the basic program. She emphasized food conservation, nutrition, and storage.
World War II brought emphasis on increasing food production. Extension staff encouraged farmers to meet production goals and adjust to shortages at home. Texas Four-H clubs engaged in a large program to decrease livestock losses from disease and improper care. In 1946 Texas A&M joined the national trend of bringing together the functions of research, instruction, and extension into integrated and coordinated departments. Director Ide P. Trotter modernized the extension service and established a national training program for Black extension staff at Prairie View A&M. His successor, George G. Gibson, expanded these programs and concluded in 1955 a new memorandum of understanding with the United States Department of Agriculture that classified extension work as cooperative extension, thereby expanding the role of the agricultural extension service and permitting extension personnel to receive joint state and federal appointments.
In the 1960s major areas of program emphasis were efficiency in production, efficiency in marketing, distribution and utilization of farm products, conservation, development and wise use of natural resources, farm management, leadership development, family living, community improvement, resource development, and public affairs. The 4-H Club remained the major youth organization. The decade witnessed the establishment of agricultural research and extension centers throughout the state, with agricultural scientists and extension personnel housed together. Raleigh E. Patterson, vice chancellor of agriculture at Texas A&M, originated this idea and was ably assisted by John E. Hutchison, director of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, and by Robert D. Lewis, director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. The state's first center was at Weslaco. The concept of area agricultural development burst upon the scene in the 1960s when John H. Barton started the BIG (Blackland Income Growth) program and Ernest Trew followed with BET (Build East Texas). These programs brought agricultural leaders and specialists from private and public areas to set long-range educational, social, and economic goals and support them. BIG played a major role in the revival of cotton in the blacklands. Area programs focused on ecology, care for the aged, and improving rural society. A small-farm program started by Texas A&M in 1969 was transferred to the leadership of Prairie View in 1972. Pilot programs dealt with minorities in rural areas.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought about the integration of extension services at Prairie View A&M University and Texas A&M University. Thirteen years later the Agricultural Act of 1977 funded the Prairie View program separately. This act produced two cooperative extension services, one at Texas A&M and one at Prairie View A&M. The two cooperate closely in program planning and implementation in an effort that is commonly referred to as the Texas Extension System. In 1992 the Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M was led by Hoover Carden, recipient of the United States Department of Agriculture's Superior Service Award for outstanding and effective program leadership. Prairie View had received national recognition for an exceptional model health project and for a minority peer educator project. A total staff of seventy focused on developing healthy life styles for at risk individuals, management of family funds and resources, leadership development, youth at risk, youth development in science and technology, neighborhood and community beautification, water and soil conservation, increasing agricultural profitability, and low-input and whole-farm agriculture.
Texas Agricultural Extension achievements included the integrated pest-management programs, the "Don't Bag It" lawn care program, which received the Environmental Protection Agency's 1990 Solid Waste Award, the "Partners for Parenting" in 215 counties, a 4-H program that reached one of every eleven Texas youth between the ages of nine and nineteen, the V. G. Young Institute of County Government for county officials, and educational, financial, and health programs for minority and low-income Texans. Important achievements were made in tourism, swine production, aquaculture, wildlife management, the domestication of the Bluebonnet, and adult leadership programs. In 2016, with some 900 professional educators, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service remained the nation's largest state extension service. It continued to provide educational programs serving the residents of every Texas county and contributing to the work of Texas A&M AgriLife agencies to address the societal challenges of feeding our world, protecting our environment, improving our health, enriching our youth and growing our economy. See also AGRICULTURE.