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What's in a name? For A&M college it involves a bit of confusion

I'll probably get letters, and I certainly don't intend to offend anyone, but I have to wonder at the reasoning behind the recent name change of the Texas A&M College of Agriculture Research and Extension to Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension.

After all, in the spirit of fairness, I did criticize the University of Nebraska when they replaced the word agriculture with something like life sciences a few years back.

Apparently, some of the school's most avid supporters also wonder at the switch. I was having lunch with a group of farmers recently at a production seminar and someone brought up the name change. It wasn't me, I promise.

General consensus around the table was that the name was an attempt to move away from any association with agriculture. Someone remarked that he thought the University was “trying to get as far away from agriculture as possible.” That's probably an exaggeration, but he reflected what many in the room were thinking: In a time when agriculture is struggling to maintain awareness with consumers who neither understand nor appreciate the challenges farmers face every day, it seems like one more example of a revered institution backing away from full-bore support.

They also questioned the name and speculated on what AgriLife means. Beats me. One suggested it sounded like a vitamin store, a place to buy natural remedies for all what ails you.

I'm still wondering what was wrong with The Cooperative Extension Service or the Agricultural Experiment Station. Those monikers have served land grant institutions well for about 100 years. Farmers trusted information they got from the Extension Service and they found research results from the Agricultural Experiment Stations useful and credible.

I don't know, but I imagine folks at Texas A&M wanted a more modern brand for the work they do with agriculture. Likely the name change reflects a desire to attract a new generation of students into the college of agriculture and to attract funding for research efforts that now include much more than varieties, plant protection chemistry and mechanical engineering. It's a new age and the needs are different. The basics still need work, but efforts now include gene manipulation, satellite imagery, and renewable energy.

But it seems to me, and to the folks around that table a few weeks back, that at its core, it's still agriculture, still based on men and women tilling the soil, controlling pests and managing risks the best they can. It's still farming, whether it's production with global positioning system technology, genetically modified seed or for renewable fuel sources.

I don't know for certain, but I suspect that officials at Texas A&M consulted a focus group or some panel of experts to advise them on changing the name. Maybe they should have included some of the folks I talked to.

I don't expect the mission of Texas A&M agriculture to change as AgriLife. I don't expect agriculture and farmers to get short shrift because of the new name. And I don't expect any less commitment to farmers and ranchers than has always been the case. But, like the farmers I talked to, I don't understand the why of it.

I recall, about 20 years ago, that the soft drink giant Coca Cola decided it needed to reinvigorate an old brand and developed New Coke.

How's that working out?

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