Minnesota ag community unites for long-term sustainability

In 2015, the state legislature established the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) Program to hire researchers and improve infrastructure at University of Minnesota colleges and Extension sites. The goal of the investment is to achieve long-term sustainability in agriculture.

Brian Buhr, CFANS dean

Now three years in, the first round of funding has led to the hiring of 14 faculty positions, five Extension educators and a number of needed infrastructure upgrades in areas like crop and livestock productivity, soil fertility, water quality and pest resistance. The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), College of Veterinary Medicine and Extension received funding, which was established by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, to drive breakthroughs in each area.

CFANS Dean Brian Buhr said each new hire through AGREETT was made to benefit the largest swath of ag food areas. New researchers will also work with Extension educators to ensure their work is efficiently translated to the field.

“This is an opportunity to hire researchers in areas we likely wouldn’t be hiring in right now,” Buhr said. “It offers us the ability to not only expand and tackle these issues, but also hire the Extension educators to work directly with the grower.”

Buhr said the big picture focus of AGREETT is on areas that enhance productivity by reducing the footprint of crop systems while enhancing yields. To ensure funding is directed to areas that advance this mission, Buhr works with a board of advisors from around 20 ag organizations, including the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

“We know where we are addressing needs as a university, but most importantly the board helps us identify where we have needs in the crop system. It has been great conversation,” Buhr said.

The faculty appointments will be crucial in driving research that increases sustainability on farms, but first infrastructure improvements were necessary to successfully carry out that mission. As one example, AGREETT was used to remodel CFANS’ soil testing lab, which hadn’t been updated in more than 20 years.

For unforeseen challenges in the field, a chunk of AGREETT funds were also directed to the rapid-response fund, which is used to quickly address emerging issues like pests or animal health outbreaks.

While AGREETT’s benefit to Minnesota agriculture is clear, it is also a boost for CFANS, which currently has its highest enrollment in approximately 30 years. With the additional hires, more graduate students are supported through research, and undergraduate students have additional opportunities to get out in the field, according to Buhr.

Buhr said AGREETT has been a great example of the Minnesota agriculture community coming together to create something that benefits all involved. With new faculty coming onboard and updated infrastructure in place, Buhr looks forward to producing work that improves the sustainability of the state’s ag sector.

“This is a case where we all came together to launch work that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” Buhr said. “It was great to see everything happen legislatively, and now we are excited to start delivering.”

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