Talking with U of M

Talking National Ag Day with U of M

Image of Dean Brian Buhr next to an image of a field.
Image of Dean Brian Buhr

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (03/07/2023) — Classrooms and communities across the country will recognize the 50th anniversary of National Agriculture Day (Ag Day) on March 21, 2023. Ag Day is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives. 

As this milestone approaches, Brian Buhr, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, reflects on the last 50 years in the industry and answers questions about what we expect the next 50 years to look like.

When you think about the last 50 years in agriculture, what do you consider to be the biggest strides and successes?

Dean Buhr:
Throughout the last five decades, agricultural technology has been continuously and dramatically improved and modernized. Increases in both efficiency and sustainability have abounded in everything from machinery and inputs to plant genetics and new crop varieties. Tractors and combines have grown bigger and faster; fertilizers are better; plant breeding innovation has brought crops that are more resilient, resist pests and use fewer resources; soil testing has advanced; we have GPS and drone technology; and much more. As a result, farmers today produce more food on less land using less nutrient inputs. These advances are significant to our work to protect the planet for generations to come, as we continue to focus our scientific efforts and research on climate adaptation and mitigation.

How will Minnesota play a role in agriculture’s future? 

Dean Buhr:
For generations, agriculture and food systems have been at the heart of Minnesota, fueling our state’s economy and providing nourishment worldwide. Today, we have the distinct opportunity to make Minnesota the global leader in advancing food and agriculture research, education and outreach. As part of a public-private partnership and in collaboration with Riverland Community College in Austin, we’re exploring the development of an integrated advanced agricultural research complex in Mower County known as the Future of Advanced Agricultural Research in Minnesota (FAARM). This will be a first-of-its-kind complex that serves as a catalyst for research, innovation and economic development. It will offer integrated innovation, instruction and visionary technology that fuel the growth of rural economies while working to solve the world’s grand challenges, including adapting to and mitigating climate change.

Is there any particular technology that you think is poised to make a significant impact on agriculture? 

Dean Buhr:
Over the centuries, advances in agriculture have moved from mechanical (using machines to do the work), to chemical (such as applying pesticides and herbicides), to biological (the Green Revolution), to current major breakthroughs with digital data. This is a huge step in the natural evolution of agriculture, and it is happening at the U of M in a big way with our agri-food informatics initiative. It works with agricultural data from farm entities big and small, curating it, making it interoperable (able to talk to each other) and analyzing it both short and long term. This makes it possible to create research-ready agri-food data and turn it into actionable information, which is game-changing in addressing the many issues facing local and global agri-food systems today, from climate change and pests to diseases and markets. We’ve also seen major advances in the computational and data capabilities that allow us to measure and understand the billions of molecular interactions that affect the health of the only biome we have — Earth! This includes advanced genetics; understanding the microbiomes from soil that impact soil fertility and plant health; and understanding the microbiomes of human and animal digestion that impact digestion and health. As we look to the future, we will continue to improve and refine the technology that provides data that has been so groundbreaking for agriculture, such as artificial intelligence, satellites, sensors, drones, facial recognition and much more. 

As you look ahead to the next 50 years, what do you think will be the biggest challenges for the industry?

Dean Buhr:
We will continue to be challenged with finding new, more and better ways to sustainably feed our world’s growing population while providing successful livelihoods for farmers and protecting our environment. To do this, it is imperative that we invest in agricultural research and development (R&D). Agricultural innovations are a formidable challenge, and there are often gaps of a decade or more between investment in ag R&D and having new crop technologies available to farmers. Currently the need for ag R&D investment is much greater than the supply. A recent report from the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation found that research investment generated returns of 10 times the amount invested over the past 50-some years. This means that on average, a dollar invested today brings a future return equivalent to $10 in present day value. We must prioritize investment in ag R&D. 

How is the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences preparing students to take on the world’s future challenges with innovation and responsibility? 

Dean Buhr:
Our aim is to prepare students for their first job and for the job they’ll have 20 years from now, many of which don’t even exist yet. They arrive here eager to make a positive impact in the world. With 27 programs in disciplines involving food, agricultural, and natural resource sciences, CFANS provides interdisciplinary, hands-on learning experiences that foster their curiosity and creative thinking. Our faculty inspire students to find solutions to global challenges, such as feeding a rapidly growing population while conserving and protecting our natural resources for generations to come. 

About the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences 
The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) strives to inspire minds, nourish people, and sustainably enhance the natural environment. CFANS has a legacy of innovation, bringing discoveries to life through science and educating the next generation of leaders. Every day, students, faculty, and researchers use science to address the grand challenges of the world today and in the future. CFANS offers an unparalleled expanse of experiential learning opportunities for students and the community, with 12 academic departments, 10 research and outreach centers across the state, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the Bell Museum of Natural History, and dozens of interdisciplinary centers. 

About “Talking...with U of M”
“Talking...with U of M” is a resource whereby University of Minnesota faculty answer questions on current and other topics of general interest. Feel free to republish this content. If you would like to schedule an interview with the faculty member or have topics you’d like the University of Minnesota to explore for future “Talking...with U of M,” please contact University Public Relations at [email protected]

Media Contacts

Lori Fligge

College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Twin Cities