Extension in war on many fronts

Linda Benedict, LaBauve, Randy  |  6/9/2014 9:16:41 PM

Randy LaBauve

During World War II, Louisiana Cooperative Extension played a major role in improving the homeland, while providing valuable support for the military. County agents managed federal farm labor programs, lining up workers to replace farmers who departed for combat. Agents started recruitment drives using press releases, radio broadcasts, pamphlets called “circular letters,” organized talks and home visits. The efforts ultimately placed nearly 80,000 workers onto short-handed farms. After the conflict, agents also managed prisoner of war labor programs.

Home demonstration agents worked with “Victory” neighborhood leaders to establish community canning centers and distribute pressure cookers, sealers and food dehydrators. Agents saturated newspapers and radio stations with helpful tips and encouragement. They taught nutrition and spearheaded legislation requiring vitamin and mineral enrichment of flour, bread and margarine.

Agents and 4-H’ers practically ran the “victory garden” program. Harvested crops helped feed rural and urban people, as well as soldiers. Louisiana Extension mailed out more than 100,000 “LSU victory pinches” – free packets of vegetable seeds developed at the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. The statewide mail-outs included growing instructions. Agents also persuaded farmers to grow hybrid corns, which brought about a revolutionary wartime increase in production.

4-H’ers expanded their livestock club work by helping tend cattle at farms with too few workers. According to extension historian Frederick W. Williamson, “After the war, beef cattle and dairy production improved in numbers and grew proportionately more than any other state in the country.”

4-H youth sewed uniforms for soldiers and conducted colossal scrap metal drives. Club members also raised $3.5 million in war bonds – enough to build a Liberty Ship, which were cargo ships built during World War II with donations. The Louisiana ship was named “Stanley W. Floyd” after a popular 4-H leader.

Extension agricultural engineers worked with farm machinery companies to conduct a series of statewide schools – demonstrating proper care and operation of new wartime technologies. These radical mechanical advances spurred greater efficiency in food production and provided some relief from labor shortages during and after the war. Ultimately, Louisiana Cooperative Extension efforts helped bring victory on many fronts.

Randy LaBauve is an associate communications specialist in LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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