U of M plans new investment in ag research, education and Extension
A nearly $5 million state investment in agricultural productivity at the University of Minnesota will be used this year to hire scientists and improve infrastructure across seven areas of collaboration spanning three U of M colleges and at research and outreach and Extension sites across the state.
The plan announced today covers the first years of a multi-year investment known as the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer Program (AGREETT). The program was established by the state legislature in its 2015 session and funding was established with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to support the program. An advisory panel made up of university leaders, the agriculture department and industry leaders has reviewed options and agreed to the spending plan. U of M leaders announced the plan today in conjunction with Farm Fest, the state’s largest agricultural industry gathering.
Under the plan, new faculty, technicians and graduate students will be hired to work in these seven key areas: crop and livestock productivity; microbial science; advancing soil fertility and water quality; agricultural technology and decision-making; nutrient recycling and management; agro-ecological innovation; and technologies aimed at managing pest resistance and climate change.
The new faculty will be hired by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); University of Minnesota Extension; and the College of Veterinary Medicine. In each area, hires will be complementary; for example, a new CFANS research and teaching faculty member specializing in manure management and water quality will collaborate with a new Extension Educator in those areas.
Many of the new hires will be based on the University’s St. Paul campus, home to the three colleges; others will be located at U of M research and outreach centers in Morris, Crookston, Grand Rapids and Lamberton and at Extension regional offices across the state.
“AGREETT allows us to efficiently achieve long-term agricultural productivity increases,” said Brian Buhr, CFANS dean. “This investment by the state will help producers and the food and ag industries across every platform take advantage of the technological changes that are transforming agriculture. And at the same time, it helps us train the workforce of the future, which is a crucial need for the industry.”
Hiring processes for the scientists likely will take at least several months; in the meantime, the AGREETT advisory panel has agreed to use some of the funding from the legislation as a one-time source of funds for infrastructure improvements. Those improvements could include upgrades to the soil testing and plant diagnostic laboratories as well as new equipment to improve the university’s ability to detect pests and disease, and to make food safer for consumers.
"Extension takes research and education to every county and community across Minnesota," said Bev Durgan, Extension dean. "AGREETT will grow our capacity to reach agricultural producers with data and innovations that enable them to make good decisions, conserve resources, cope with emerging problems and discover new opportunities. This investment in the University will benefit every Minnesotan because it's an investment in our food, economy, communities and environment."
The AGREETT funding is supplemented by state funds directed to two additional new faculty positions in wild-rice and potato breeding, and by money targeted to a rapid-response fund; to agricultural leadership training; and toward finding the causes of and preventing avian influenza.
"These investments will improve our preparation for and response to global diseases that threaten animal, human and environmental health," says Trevor Ames, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "Combined with new funds from the university's strategic plan, we are creating six new faculty positions that will directly support animal agriculture and food safety in Minnesota."
The second stage of AGREETT will likely include additional faculty and Extension educator hires, with specifics to be determined by the advisory board, Buhr said, but all of the new scientists are expected to be hired and in place by July 2020.
“These recurring funds are an opportunity for the university to engage with the advisory board to learn more about opportunities as they evolve,” Buhr said. “It’s a wonderful way for us to broaden or deepen our investments with the goal of long-term improvements in agricultural productivity that benefit all Minnesotans.”