Under the auspices of the Vansville Farmer's Club of Beltsville, a Farmers' Institute was organized and held its first meeting in Beltsville, Maryland in December 1894. The meeting participants appointed a committee to plan a program to be held in 1896 to bring to the attention of the state legislature the need and importance of an organization committed to improving agricultural conditions within the state, such as those in Vermont, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
A Model Farmers' Institute was held in Annapolis on January 14, 1896, with the goal of gaining financial support from the state legislature. The group was successful and the Maryland State Farmers' Institute was created by state legislation on March 27, 1896, with an initial appropriation of $3,000 per year. The legislature established the Farmers' Institute as a department of the Maryland Agricultural College, and provided for its director to be appointed by college trustees. Each county in the state was to host at least one Institute annually.
William L. Amoss was appointed the first Director of the Farmers' Institute Department of the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC) in 1896, a position he held until 1910. He organized Farmers' Institute meetings in each county, securing speakers, keeping attendance records, tracking subject matter important to the farmers in each locale, and acting as chairman at the meetings. Amoss was responsible for many of the educational trains and boats which traveled throughout the state disseminating agricultural information. He described the Institutes as "a far reaching system of popular education in agriculture," and as "the Adult farmers (sic) school where men or women skilled in all departments of agriculture, and from any section of the globe, will have an opportunity to meet our farmers." Posters advertising some of the earliest meetings included the motto, "No Theory! All Practical!" When Maryland Governor Lloyd Lowndes addressed an Institute meeting in Allegany County in February 1896, he told the assembled farmers he had been "warned . . . not to appear at the farmers' institute (sic) except in the working dress of a farmer." Despite the local flavor of the Institute meetings, speakers were agricultural experts who traveled to all the counties of Maryland, and included farmers, professors of agriculture and home economics, and directors of experiment stations with national and international reputations, including George T. Powell, Director of the Farmers' Institute of New York; R. W. Silvester, President of the Maryland Agricultural College; James Wilson, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1897 to 1913; and James Armstrong, Land Commissioner of Ireland.
William Amoss was dismissed from his post by the MAC Board of Trustees in 1910. Richard S. Hill was appointed to replace him as Director of the Department of Farmers' Institutes and held that post from 1911 to 1918.
The federal Smith-Lever Act, passed in 1914, made funds available for farm and home demonstration agents and established a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture and the land grant institutions that became the Cooperative Extension Service. When the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service was established at the Maryland Agricultural College in 1916, it largely replaced the Farmers' Institute Department.